Just in time for graduation, patrol officers issued safety inspection “report cards” to unoccupied cars in Burlington last week as part of a new educational program designed to increase public awareness about the risks of vehicle theft and petty larcenies. Scores of motorists got a failing grade.
The program, launched in conjunction with the Parallel Justice Program  and the Community Coalition, rolled out June 1 to coincide with the increase in rental turnovers, as well as the warmer weather, when vehicle larcenies typically spike. According to Deputy Police Chief Walter Decker, Burlington averages “several dozen larcenies a week” this time of year. Property crime across the state jumped 10 percent in 2008 over the year before, according to a report released last week by the Vermont Criminal Information Center .
About 500 parked cars throughout the city were issued safety report cards indicating either a passing or failing grade. Vehicle owners either found a note that read, “Congratulations! We did not observe anything that could increase your chances of becoming a victim of larceny from your vehicle.” Or, “Warning! You could have been the victim of a crime. We noticed one or more of the following safety concerns.”
The note indicated what factors placed the vehicle at greater risk, such as open windows, unlocked doors or high-risk items — iPods, cellphones, purses, backpacks — left in plain view. Regardless of the grade, no fines were issued, and Decker assures vehicle owners that the results won’t end up on anyone’s driving record.
He says the public feedback has been mostly positive. However, the idea of getting graded by the cops didn’t sit well with Jodi Whalen, a Henry Street resident who found an “F” on her car. The reason: She left her yoga mat and an old wall map on the back seat of a locked car.
“I understand where they’re coming from, but it felt a bit intrusive,” Whalen says. “What’s next, telling me my skirt is too short?”
Tag, you’re it: Burlington police have added a new, 21st-century tool to their crime-fighting toolbox: social networking sites. Apparently, some local graffiti artists — police prefer the less flattering term “vandals” — just can’t resist the temptation to brag about their latest artwork, and often get nabbed after posting their recent tags on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace. Other times, they’re caught after sending photos of their work to friends or family via cellphones or email.
Interestingly, the demographic of Vermont’s graffiti taggers isn’t what most people might assume. “The average person we’re arresting for a graffiti offense are typically not kids 10 to 14 years of age,” Decker notes. “The average tagger is probably 18 to 22.”
Why? The deputy chief explains that the older offenders have better transportation, more money for buying spray paint and are out later at night. And, presumably, they can lift bigger ladders for those really hard-to-reach spots.