Many Stratford Landing residents had quite a surprise when they went to get in their cars last month. According to one of the neighbors, who wished not to be identified, paint was sprayed on more than 40 vehicles — most of them parked in the street.
Various symbols (that may be gang-related, according to police) and obscenities were applied in a seemingly random fashion. The police are investigating and apparently have some fingerprints.
Kent Siegel, chairman of the Waynewood Security Committee, said, "Be alert for suspicious activity at night in your neighborhood, and call police immediately if kids or young adults are seen carrying paint spray cans." He also recommended getting vehicles off the street at night, if physically possible.
In light of the recent wave of vandalism, Greg Kottemann, crime prevention officer, Fairfax County Police Department, has provided the following safety tips:
* Always lock car doors, no matter where the car is, or what time of day it is;
* Never leave keys in or on the car. Thieves know where the hiding places are;
* Do not leave articles in the car that would entice someone to break into the vehicle. If articles are kept in the car, keep them out of sight. If a stereo has a removable faceplate, remove it and take it inside;
* Park the car in a well-lit area, and if at all possible, off the street. Criminals are reluctant to go onto private property because it increases their likelihood of getting caught. (A motion sensor light installed in the area where cars are parked would activate whenever there is motion near it.)
HAVE A CAR alarm installed that will go off when the doors are open or the car is bumped or rocked with sufficient force. According to Kottemann, this will alert owners, especially when at home, if a car is being tampered with. "Owners can also get an alarm that will shut down the electrical system if not deactivated properly.
Use some additional anti-theft devices on a car; the Club, a brake-pedal locking device, a steering-wheel cover lock, or VIN (vehicle identification number) etching.
Owners can install theft-tracking devices such as Low-Jack or On-Star. However, these devices work only after a car is stolen.
None of these precautions will guarantee that thieves will leave cars alone."
Using the layered approach, though, will make a car a harder target for criminals to steal, according to Kottemann. The proximity to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and the state line make Alexandria, Belle View, Belle Haven, Huntington and those areas in the north end of the Mount Vernon area especially vulnerable to vehicle theft and tampering.
NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH can play a big part in the prevention effort. "If citizens find themselves up at night, take a minute to look out the windows, or step outside and take a look and listen. If there is a crime in progress, do not attempt to intercede," cautioned Kottemann. "Call the police as soon as possible with the location, suspicious or criminal activity, and the best possible description of the perpetrators. Armed with a good description, officers may spot the suspects while responding, or patrolling later that night."
Several communities in the Mount Vernon District have been victim to these nighttime vandals and thieves in the past month. Kottemann said they were working hard to solve those cases, "but we need your help. If you are a victim of a crime, please report it to us."
Kottemann said there were several ways to report: Have an officer come out to take a report; call the Citizen Reporting Number — 703-922-7938; go online towww.fairfaxcounty.gov/ps/police/CRUDiscl.htm and fill out an online report form.
To report a crime, call non-emergency, 703-691-213; for information on programs, or to contact a particular officer, call crime prevention, 703-360-8928; Mount Vernon District Station, 703-360-8400.