It did not take long to find a car that illustrated why Mildenhall Safer Neighbourhood Team does ‘hot spot patrols’.
We had only been minutes on a small estate, which will stay nameless to protect the foolish, when PCSO Bill Butcher shone his torch into a Peugeot and saw an aluminium case.
A radio check shows the car is registered to a nearby house where the owner says she was going to bring the case in after putting her shopping away and says it only contains her hairdressing products.
Bill’s colleague PCSO Tristan Askew points out: “Thieves don’t know what’s in it until they’ve smashed your window and caused a lot of damage.”
But at least the car is locked. Two weeks ago thieves entered four unlocked cars in nearby Heathlands Way, stealing phones, sat navs and a wallet, yet when the SNT did a hot spot patrol on that estate a few days later they found 24 of 161 vehicles were insecure.
Bill explained: “With hot spot patrols what we’re doing is ‘target hardening’. We do a leaflet drop that puts the security idea in their minds, then a couple of days later we return and physically check the cars.”
It is usually done with volunteers from the USAF because their personnel are vulnerable.
Bill said: “They don’t think of security as much as they should. They also tend to have the nice gadgetry.”
It is usual for the team to see iPads, phones, sat navs and handbags left visible in cars, and, even though USAF personnel are told not to leave uniform in them, they still do — including the Goretex camouflage jackets thieves love.
Just round the corner we find a car with a US uniform shirt and cap on view. Bill knocks at the house while, Tristan checks another car belonging to the same household and spots a sat nav high on the windscreen.
The American says: “Thanks, I appreciate that. I didn’t know the navigator was in there.”
A few doors away a thieves bonanza is waiting. The car on the drive has a military kitbag on view while the garage door is open with lights on showing stacked boxes. This family moved in today and their house contents are in the unlocked garage.
It makes the Fiesta round the corner with a large-screen sat nav stuck to the glass seem small fry.
Tristan says at least there were no unlocked cars, but Bill adds that nobody has challenged us. “OK, we’ve got high-vis on, but you can buy those anywhere,” he said.
He urges people to challenge and report those checking cars, not least because thieves often send youngsters round first to spot targets.