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How to Protect Your Fleet from Smash-and-Grab Thefts

Crimes of opportunity can be prevented by taking a few simple anti-theft steps with your fleet vehicles.

July 2012, by Chris Wolski - Also by this author


Smash-and-grab thieves typically target fleet vehicles when drivers are making deliveries, picking up cargo, or making a service or sales call to a business. The driver, focused on the task at hand, may leave the windows down, the door unlocked or a laptop in plain view, planning to be out of the vehicle for a “minute.” It takes a less than a minute for a thief to reach in and grab the valuables and be off to his or her next victim.

One of the keys to stopping opportunist thieves is to make it more difficult to commit the crime. “In order for a thief to burglarize or steal a vehicle, they are going to have to get into the vehicle. So, the Reduce Auto Theft in Texas (RATT) Task Force advocates any technique that will make it more difficult for a thief to get into a vehicle in the first place,” said Michelle Lanham, program manager for RATT.

There are a number of ways fleets can deter smash-and-grab thefts, according to Lanham. “The darkest legal limit of tint on vehicle windows is definitely recommended when it comes to preventing burglary,” she noted. “Safety glass and shatter-resistant window film is another. Both keep a vehicle window from shattering easily if someone attempts to break in. Vehicle door lock reinforcements are another option.”

However, Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB, noted tinted windows will only go so far in discouraging a thief. “They only deter the low achievers among the smash-and-grab crowd because you can still see inside through the windshield,” he said. “Now, metal mesh is my favorite. It is a good, secure option, but expensive if you have a fleet to consider. But, what is the risk of theft without it? Then it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis.”

Both Lanham and Scafidi agreed that vehicle caging is among the best theft deterrent options when guarding against smash-and-grab criminals. “It might be best to have a heavy-duty internal cage type protection and untinted glass; let the knuckleheads see they’d need a cutting torch and asbestos gloves to reach the ‘treasure.’ Then, even the idiots might realize that it’s not worth the risk,” Scafidi said.

Beyond investing in better windows and internal caging, there are three other approaches that fleet managers, other company supervisors, and drivers can take to protect both vehicles and what’s inside them, according to Lanham.

The first approach is the easiest — remove all contents placed in a vehicle by human hands when the vehicle is not in operation. “If nothing else, do not leave property and equipment in plain sight,” Lanham advised. “Hide or disguise contents if removal is not possible.”

For fleet vehicles equipped with toolboxes or specially built compartments to house tools and equipment, compartments built from heavy-duty steel and equipped with hardened steel-lock latches and locks will provide added security.

Finally, Lanham advised that all tools and equipment left in (or on) a fleet vehicle should be marked with permanent identifiers and cataloged to increase the chances of recovery. “Equipment should also be documented and videotaped for law enforcement and insurance reporting purposes,” Lanham added.

But, on occasion, a smash-and-grab theft may escalate to outright vehicle theft.

“Even when fleet vehicle contents and equipment are the primary targets, the theft of the entire vehicle is often viewed by a thief as the most efficient means to commit the burglary, because the vehicle can be taken to a secure location where the contents can be removed at the thief’s leisure,” Lanham said.

Using Common Sense

The most effective weapon against thieves — whether they’re after the contents of a vehicle or the vehicle itself is common sense. “The easiest and most cost-effective [protection] is to use the security that comes with the car,” Scafidi advised. “Locking the doors and keeping the windows up still works and it deters a good number of opportunist thieves.”

In addition, other common sense anti-theft methods include removing keys from the ignition.

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