A Letter from WOHA President Peter Lund:
Let's not make Whispering Oaks attractive to criminals.
Despite the headlines intended to attract eyeballs, most common types of crime are dropping in San Antonio. SAPD reports that violent crime rates are lower following the pandemic: assault -11% and homicide -35% in the most recent data. However property crimes, particularly those involving vehicles are up significantly. Vehicle-related theft has increased 62% during 2023 with over 14,000 incidents locally so far. And sadly Whispering Oaks has seen its share.
Last month a vehicle was stolen from an eastside driveway on a Sunday afternoon. Around that same time a few blocks away, an intruder holding what appeared to be a gun was seen on camera entering an open garage presumably to access the owner’s vehicle. These events follow a spate earlier this year of cars being rummaged through and belongings stolen late at night.
These crimes serve as an important reminder that criminals prey upon easy opportunities. Keys left in cars. Unlocked vehicles with enticing possessions. Open garage doors with power tools and bicycles visible. We all can be complacent and I’m certainly guilty myself. Here in suburbia, we sometimes make ourselves an attractive target for lazy thieves. And once they find a payoff, they often return for more. Camera footage indicates our recent recurring crime spree is being perpetrated by a small group of teenagers likely emboldened by social media and seeking bragging rights.
Before moving to Texas I lived on an urban residential street prone to mid-day burglaries. Entry was typically predictable; windows left ajar and old front doors mounted in weak frames being shoved open. Police warned that once word got out that residences on my street were easy pickings, more crime would follow. And it sure did. Nearly a third of the homes were broken into within three years, and one was burglarized three times in less than two years. It was likely the same thieves returning for the brand new replacement electronics purchased with insurance money. Once a downward spiral starts it can gain momentum.
That community began working with the city officials to mount cameras which could identify the vehicles driven by the perpetrators. Technology has advanced significantly since then and some cameras today are specially designed to clearly capture license plates day or night despite the glare of headlights. More and more communities are utilizing the technology and most establish clear protocols to protect privacy or guard against misuse of the data. Many will only release footage from cameras mounted in common areas directly to law enforcement to aid investigation of a properly filed case. Now that Whispering Oaks has electricity at nearly all of its entry points, WOHA may initiate a community-wide conversation about similar enhancements, but that debate isn’t likely for at least two years given other volunteer priorities.
It’s important to note that capturing evidence and having it put to use by law enforcement are two different challenges. Over 20 million US households now have doorbell cameras installed which capture clear images of criminals committing crimes such as mail and parcel theft. The wave of resulting footage has overwhelmed police investigators nationwide, and residents who invested in the technology are routinely frustrated that their images are rarely utilized to pursue property crime.
Perhaps technology will eventually help law enforcement be more efficient. But while we wait, we all would be wise to avoid being an easy mark. The most effective deterrents are relatively simple and common sense. Keep vehicles locked day and night. Lock up even when home and keep garage doors closed. Upgrade to a locking mailbox. Place a bin or basket near the front door to collect parcel deliveries which hide them from street view. Avoid leaving attractive possessions outside and tether outdoor items which tend to be stolen. And lastly, encourage each other to be more vigilant which will help keep Whispering Oaks from being attractive to habitual thieves.