Thursday, May 28, 2009

In Unusual Effort, Mt. Lebo Police Remind Residents To Lock Car Doors

Mt. Lebanon police are using some unusual methods in the hopes of stopping a string of break-ins. Those who leave their vehicles unlocked will find a card squeezed between the steering wheel and the speedometer, reminding the drivers to lock their cars.

“Very good idea. You don't need to encourage any of the crooks today. They find they're own way of doing it,” said Mt. Lebanon resident Mike McElligott. When Mt. Lebanon police find vehicles open, they also put cell phones and other personal items in the consoles, so they're not visible, and lock the cars up.


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Anonymous David Brown said...

I hate to be critical of our police department. They have a hard job to do and they do it well. But there must be a better way to reduce these break-ins.

Personally, I would feel violated if I found that the police had entered my car, let alone moved my stuff around, no matter how well-intentioned and whether or not I had anything to hide.

Of course, the officers will be obliged to investigate anything of concern that they encounter. How would you feel to come back to your car and see Mt. Lebanon's finest scrutinizing the label on your legally prescribed bottle of Viagra? Maybe next time you went shopping you would think twice about driving to Mt. Lebanon.

Plus, what if they lock someone's keys in their car? They don't know the owner's plans. This could cause a serious problem for someone such as losing a job or missing a flight to a wedding or funeral. Sure, leaving your keys in your car is dumb but that's too high a price to pay.

I hope the police department realizes this is too intrusive before they end up inadvertently doing some real harm in the interest of public service.

May 31, 2009 3:45 PM  
Anonymous David Harris said...

While I applaud proactive police efforts to fight crime, it has to be done within the law. What the Mt. Leb. police are doing is well intentioned, but it may violate the Constitution. What's more, there is an acceptable, legal way to accomplish their worthy goal.

The fact that a car's door is unlocked does not give anyone, including the police, the right to open the door and enter the car -- not even a little bit. Police, like any other passersby, can look inside, but they can't enter to leave a card, or look around further, etc. That is a search under the Fourth Amendment, and it is not allowed without probable cause.

What will happen if police continue to do this is that the police officers in this well intentioned effort will find something or see something -- a bottle of pills, the butt of a gun (perhaps a legal one), the stub of a marijuana cigarette, etc., and use that to make an arrest and conduct a further search. The owner of the car will then argue that the search began with the illegal entry of the car, and a judge may suppress the items. This is very basic Fourth Amendment law. Some folks will then be outraged that the court let a guilty person off on a "technicality" and there will be much anger at "civil liberties nuts" and lenient judges and etc. Of course, in the heat of that outrage, everyone will forget to ask about the privacy rights of the rest of the people of Mt. Leb. As Mr. Brown says, what about the person whose Viagra (or birth control or anti-psychotic meds) is "discovered" by police -- they have a right to privacy that is protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment isn't just about criminals.

A BETTER WAY: Should police see a parked car with valuables visible, or if they discover an unlocked door or an open window, don't enter the car -- put a flyer on the windshield telling the owner to act in a smarter, more responsible way next time. Suggested language: "If we had been criminals, your car would have been an easy theft target and your valuables would be gone. Lock your car and put your valuables out of sight. For more info, call the Mt. Leb. police dept at...."

Prevent crime? Absolutely. But do it within the rules that protect everyone. Nothing generates disrespect for law more than when the authorities don't follow it -- even if they have the best of intentions.

June 02, 2009 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Liz Huston said...

Call me crazy, but wouldn't a flyer on the windshield alert a potential thief of an easy target? Would you like a flyer on your car? I sure wouldn't.

Also, Deputy Chief Truver was interviewed on the radio one morning last week, and he did explain that if the keys are in the car, or there may be something that needs the owners attention, they will find the owner of the car and have it addressed.

June 03, 2009 8:41 AM  

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