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His car got ransacked.  Receipts, fast food napkins, Chick-fil-A sauces, vehicle registration, dollar bills, sunglasses, and random notes on scraps of paper from his center console and glove department were scattered across Rob’s car,  a neighborhood watcher who requested to only have his first name because of the nature of his role.  

Rob, 53, was already a neighborhood watcher in his Brookfield community — a neighborhood in  Chantilly — before the ransacking incident two years ago but he said it made him increasingly aware neighborhood watch is a needed position to mitigate this from happening to one of his neighbors.  

“They’re taking change; they’re taking cords for phones; they’re also taking — I’m not saying this community has, but in the news — they’re taking guns; they’re taking electronics, and what it does is it unsettles people,” Rob said. “They don’t feel comfortable in their own house.”  

There are 65 members in Brookfield’s neighborhood watch, Rob said. Sabrina Ruck, crime prevention officer at the Sully District Station who oversees the Brookfield community, said in an email that communities with neighborhood watch programs generally have more awareness about the happenings around them and communicate better with police.  

Ruck said she “isn’t aware” of any recent car thefts in Brookfield. According to statistics on the Fairfax  County Police Department’s website, there were 11,628 reported larceny or theft offenses in the county in 2021, the most among 21 listed offenses. It’s a regional issue as well. In Arlington, 14 cars were broken into and another three were stolen on May 14.  

During a nighttime ride-along with the Fairfax County Times last month, Rob said that residents who leave their cars unlocked are usually victims of theft; thieves don’t look to steal cars if there are easier pickings, he said.  

If Rob catches a thief in the act — which he said he’s never done — he said he won’t confront them but instead send a report to the on-duty patrolling police officer, a protocol also followed when a group of people is walking together at 2 a.m. Car thieves typically come from outside organized groups, not  “kids being kids,” he said.  

Rob’s acts aren’t rooted in being a “snitch” or as a police wannabe, he said. Rather, he just wants his community to be safe.  

“We’re trying to keep our neighborhood quality of life up,” Rob said, “where people don’t have to worry  about coming out every day and finding their car thrown around, or their kids’ bikes stolen.”  

Ruck said, regardless of crime level, she encourages communities to start neighborhood watch programs because of what it fosters outside of reporting crime: community pride and unity, the interaction between neighbors, and empowerment to speak. 

Neighborhood watch, at its core, isn’t intended to be a save-the-day-minded bunch of neighbors. In Brookfield’s neighborhood watch manual, residents are encouraged to report all suspicious activity to the police and practice “deterrence, delay, and detection” — the manual notes that delaying a burglar by four minutes is usually enough to prevent a break-in.  

However, not all thieves, spotted by neighborhood watch or not, are prosecuted the same way. Ruck said carjacking is a felony, but the dollar amount taken is what constitutes a misdemeanor theft versus a felony theft: more than $500 in value taken is a felony in Virginia.  

Some areas in Fairfax County are less equipped to prevent such losses, Rob said. Some townhouse clusters, like one in Brookfield, have cars parked along the street in the absence of garages and therefore are more accessible to car thieves. Gated communities in the county frequently have multiple garages to keep cars, which keep thieves away, he said.  

To help these townhome communities out, and to look out for their own houses, Rob said the use of cameras, Ring Doorbells, and Neighbors, a social media-esque crime-monitoring app, greatly help spot and report thieves. Newer cameras have artificial intelligence sensors and many Brookfield residents own them, Rob said — cameras with motion detection range from $47-$88 on Amazon. Streetlights also help, Rob said, but many side streets in Brookfield don’t have them as residents prefer to sleep without light shining into their house.  

For Rob, however, he’s usually parked with the lights off during his shifts to stay inconspicuous. He said he doesn’t get bored because he thinks of neighborhood watch as a civic duty.  

Even still, a quiet night is a good night, he said.  

“It’s not a ‘gotcha,’ we’re not vigilantes,” he explained. “Organized groups coming in to target my neighbors  — I don’t like that.”

(1) comment

MolonLabe76

This type of crime is everywhere unfortunately...Typically the criminal walks the street at night checking to see if doors are unlocked...In our neighborhood, easiest way to see they have come through is multiple car trunks popped open as you walk up a street...

My advice is to confront them if you see them..Takes too long for police to get there and after the fact they typically don't respond or do anything...

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