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Security forces urge servicemembers to lock valuables out of sight

Locking your car doors isn’t enough.  Items like global navigation systems and Ipods are small and can quickly be pocketed and stolen from a vehicle.  By taking a few simple protective measures you can reduce your risk of a break in.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean Mateo White)

Locking your car doors isn’t enough. Items like global navigation systems and Ipods are small and can quickly be pocketed and stolen from a vehicle. By taking a few simple protective measures you can reduce your risk of a break in. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean Mateo White)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- "I was distraught and very angry," is how Airman 1st Class Stephanie Santos described her feelings upon noticing she had been a victim of theft. The 435th Medical Support Squadron technician was surprised to say the least.

"I've lived here for three years and nothing like this has happened," she said. "I live across the street from a church in a very 'safe' neighborhood. I know all of my neighbors and it's just a friendly place."

"It is very frustrating," Airman Santos added. "My doors were locked and I have an alarm but it did not go off and I come out to find glass shattered everywhere and my GPS and a carton of cigarettes gone."

Security forces members want Airmen to know, Airman Santos is just one of the many recent victims of vehicle burglaries but there are steps you can take to prevent this from happening to you.

"Historically we have had some problems here and there with break-ins, but recently we have witnessed a spike," said Master Sgt. Daniel Paine, 569th U.S. Forces Police Squadron criminal investigator.

Over the last six months, areas known to have a high concentration of Americans, such as Ramstein Village and Kaiserslautern, have seen numerous complainants of vehicle break-ins. In each case, the stories are very similar -- the servicemember usually lives in what they consider a nice neighborhood, they leave their vehicle parked and locked with the factory alarm armed and the next morning they find the window busted out and their GPS or MP3 player stolen.

Security forces members said they believe many of the incidents are not due to servicemembers not locking their vehicle doors, but could be avoided if high dollar, easily removable items were not left in plain sight.

"It's pretty simple," said the six-year investigator. "Take your high-dollar items with you when you get out of your vehicle, at least lock them out of plain sight."

Senior Airman Keith Allen, a 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron chew chief, loaned his 2001 Chevy Malibu to a friend from work. The next morning when his coworker was leaving for work, he noticed the driver's window had been busted out.

"We have found many people's factory car alarms do not activate if the window is busted out, only if the door is opened," Sergeant Paine said.

Fortunately Airman Allen was lucky nothing was found to be missing.

"I assume they were looking for a GPS due to the GPS mounting bracket being attached to the windshield. A lot of stuff had been pulled out of the glove box and the center console was left opened," Airman Allen said.

What isn't lucky for victims like Airman Allen is the amount of money it takes to simply replace the window and any other damages to the vehicle. In Airman Allen's case it will cost him nearly 400 Euros to have his window replaced.

What's worse is in many cases, even if the individual files a police report through security forces who work in conjunction with the German Polizei, much of the stolen equipment such as in Airman Santos' case is never returned.

"Usually a servicemember will notice their car has been broken into and call us, but off-base incidents fall under the German laws and Polizei jurisdiction," the six- year investigator, Sergeant Paine said. "Most times even if we, or the Polizei, recover stolen equipment, if it is not marked or the owner doesn't know the serial number on the equipment, they can't get it back."

These are some the key details that many victims forget or never think about before their belongings are stolen, which serves as another smack in face on top of finding the damaged and stolen goods.

"I reported my car had been broken into immediately," explained Airman Santos, whose 2007 Mazda 3 sedan had been broken into. "The Vogelweh Police arrived 30 minutes later followed by the German Polizei almost immediately. I did everything necessary, I expect to get at least my GPS back and the repair costs for my window."

Unfortunately, this is simply not the case in most instances.

"People need to keep the boxes for their items such as a GPS or IPod or they have to write them down somewhere, without that we can file the report and try to locate the equipment but in most cases they will not see it again," Sergeant Paine said.

And in Airman Santos' situation, this could be a costly mistake. On top of the already 130 Euros spent to replace the window in her car, her insurance did not cover the theft of a $399 dollar GPS.

"From what we have seen, very rarely when a servicemember's car has the red blinking alarm light will it be a target for break-in, but the best advice is to lock your belongings in the glove box or out of sight," Sergeant Paine said.

When asked if she could have done anything different to have prevented her losses, Airman Santos did admit to one thing.

"Not left my GPS in plain view," she said.