Lock ‘Em Up!


There have been a few bright spots in this anything-but-usual summer. For example, the weather has been gorgeous recently and Greenwich Emergency Medical Service (GEMS) reported only one case of COVID-19 related medical transport since mid-June. But even as we see progress in dealing with the pandemic, another set of statistics is on the rise. Greenwich is experiencing a wave of car thefts and theft of property left in unlocked vehicles. In most cases (100 percent in some neighborhoods), the keys were left in the car.

In the early days of the automobile, starting a car was difficult and dangerous. The engine had to be turned over (“cranked”) by hand via a bent metal handle (the “crank”) inserted through the front fender. It was strenuous work, and if done incorrectly, the handle could slip or kick in the hand. So, the automobile industry invented the electric starter (first installed by Cadillac in 1911) for convenience and to help appeal to the growing market of women drivers (not being sexist here, just reporting the facts). With the push of a button, the car would start, and off you’d go.  Amazing!

There was only one problem with this new advance in automotive engineering: people soon realized that anyone could jump in a car and take off with it. Hence, the birth of the “ignition key” that has been a ubiquitous part of our automotive culture for about a century. That is, it had been until fairly recently when the automotive industry decided to go “back to the future” and resurrect the push button, albeit one that is dependent on the close presence of a wireless key fob in order to operate. Supposedly, this arrangement provides convenience with increased security. Well ….

The problem with these keyless ignition systems is that you do not need to physically put the key fob in or close to the steering column in order to operate the car. It can be in your pocket or purse, or in a cupholder, or in the glove compartment, or on the seat, or on the floor – basically anywhere that is within some proximity to the wheel. As a result, it is quite easy to forget to take the fob with you when you leave the car. Or, if a passenger has the key and leaves the car, the driver is unable to start it up. This is a huge problem for parking garages. 

We can’t imagine anyone intends to leave their keys or key fob in the car, but with these new keyless systems, it is so very easy to do. Most people do not realize that these key fobs are like little radio devices and constantly put out a signal, even when hanging on your home key rack. While that signal is very weak, thieves have developed a device or devices that amplify and detect that signal. We understand that some of these devices can detect the presence of a key fob left in a car simply by driving by it. So much for increased security!

So why has Greenwich in particular seen an increase in car thefts?  One obvious reason is the presence of many high-value vehicles. Another may be the relative ease of ingress and egress via I-95 and the Merritt. We also understand that it has become a challenge of sorts for thieves to steal from the various gated communities within town. That is how they “earn their chops.”

Our Greenwich police are doing a very good job keeping our Town safe. They have been exceedingly diplomatic in their warnings to the community about this worrisome trend. Their message is very simple:  please lock your cars and don’t leave keys or other valuable property in them – even when in your own driveway.  

Having a car stolen can mean more than just a problem for the police; many auto insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for theft or damage incurred when keys are left in the vehicle. Talk about adding insult to injury!

So, just as there are steps we can take to help deal with the current virus pandemic (wear masks, wash hands, observe social distance), we can take measures to deal with this recent rash of vehicle thefts.  Let’s spoil the thieves’ fun and make them look elsewhere to earn their chops.  

Citizens of Greenwich, when you are not driving your cars, lock ‘em up!

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