“at least once or twice a week I see a smashed in window from yet another theft of items in someone’s car”


“Dear PoPville,

I wanted to write to you today about what I feel is an epidemic in that has hit Columbia Heights.

I live in the area slightly north of Meridian Hill Park and at least once or twice a week I see a smashed in window from yet another theft of items in someone’s car.

It has gotten to the point where when I walk my dog down 15th St or the 14th-15th St Blocks of Harvard, Euclid, or Girard on a Saturday or Sunday morning I am SURPRISED if there isn’t a smashed in window. It is just a constant stream of glass on the sidewalk and no doubt stolen property from yet another car.

What I ask is what are the police doing about this? I see numerous police officers writing up reports, but over the past 6-8 months there has been no letdown in the occurrences of this crime.

I am almost feel fortunate that I only use public transit/Uber and don’t have to park my car on the street each night. the rare occurrences I have a rental car I need to park overnight I have zero faith that anything is being done to prevent waking up to a smashed window and I almost feel it is a coin flip that I will walk up to one.

I can’t be the only one in this area that notices this on a very frequent basis. I am also taking about a very small coverage area strictly within Columbia Heights, I am sure this is a problem elsewhere as well.

Hopefully this can lead to something being done about this so the Columbia Heights community doesn’t need to cross their fingers every time they park their car on the street that they will have to file an insurance claim in the morning.”

62 Comment

  • I live at Park and 15 and it is a mess. I’m so thankful that I do not own a car.

    • There is no intersection of Park Rd and 15th St.

      • Might refer to Hiatt and park. If so, there are multiple broken windows there every week. The increased police presence over the last month has helped somewhat, but there the combination of the high school, poor lighting, alleys to hide, and the transitional housing make this block a nightmare

  • To make matters worse, over the past month I have twice seen groups of teenagers walking up 13th Street (between Clifton and Euclid), trying every car door handle and peering into car windows to see if anything valuable has been left on the seats. I witnessed this for the second time two Saturdays ago at about 2 pm, when the street was full of people. A group of 3 guys who appeared to be high school age were trying to get into the cars parked along 13th. I called and let the cops know about it, but I’m sure if they did or could do anything. So in the instances I’ve seen, these individuals have become brazen enough to try this in broad daylight on a fairly busy street.

      • I’ve called the police several times over the past 30 years. The quickest response I ever had (under 5 minutes) was when I reported people walking down the block in the middle of the night trying car doors. The longest response (45+ minutes) was when I reported an afternoon burglary in progress in the apartment above mine.

    • Again, it’s the HS kids in this town that make me the most upset. I’m thinking DC needs some after school programs or better booster clubs for sports and non-sport groups – something to give these kids something better to do than break car windows, stab people, and generally just mess with people after school. Provide them with something they’d miss if they weren’t allowed to do it for a while – a reason to regret breaking a car window.

      That, coupled with, I dunno, A SINGLE COP walking around watching what these kids do, and things could be nicer.

      And/or, if it’s the sort of street with tall-ish buildings on either side – maybe the community could get together and post some sort of “neighborhood watch – video recording of sidewalk area” signs in appropriate places, like stoops, but visible from the sidewalk (and then, you know, do that from street-facing windows, for what it’s worth).

  • Do yourselves a favor and leave absolutely nothing out within view when you park your car. GPS mount? take it with you or hide. Even a box of trash that contains nothing of value can look enticing to a window-smasher.

    • Agreed with anon 1:36 pm and anon 2:32 pm. Yes, sometimes there’s window-breaking that’s vandalism and has nothing to do with attempted theft… but for the most part, people who break car windows are doing so because either they see something valuable or they see something that looks like it might contain/conceal something valuable — a backpack, a gym bag, a loose blanket, a stack of items in the footwell, etc.
      Also, if you’re going to put something in your trunk, don’t wait until you get to your destination to do it. Anyone who sees you putting something in your trunk is going to wonder if it’s valuable and thus worth breaking in for.

    • You are correct that you shouldn’t leave anything out in your car. However, that didn’t work in my case. This is a warning to others.

      My car was broken into twice in Mt. Pleasant over the 3 years I lived there. Neither time had I left anything in the car for the person to steal. My car is also spotless and old (I have a tape deck, for cryin’ out loud). All I can guess is that the criminals are getting desperate and they hope you left something under the seat or in the trunk. For the record, my car does have a visible light indicating the alarm is on, so I don’t think they broke into my car just because it’s an older model and might not have an alarm.

      • After a car break in in April near U Street, the responding officer told me that it was older cars being targeted. This surprised me since I figured the opposite.

  • I walk this stretch of 15th Street really often and it’s terrible. Broken glass along the curb continuously for multiple blocks between Irving and the top of Meridian Hill Park. Dozens and dozens of broken car windows each month.

  • I was at an ANC1A meeting a few months ago and someone mentioned the problem of break ins. The response from the ANC was to “be smart” and “don’t leave anything in your cars.”

    It’s attitudes like this that make it impossible to fix any problems.

    • I agree. I hear this a lot. While clearly it’s not a good idea to leave a shiny new laptop right on the passenger seat, it’s victim blaming to put ALL of the responsibility on the people who are being robbed. Especially if it’s a localized string of them. Put a cop out there walking around – should do the trick… that’s their end of the responsibility.

    • If everyone followed that advice, and didn’t leave anything in their cars, how many break-ins do you think there would be? That’s right – almost none. The only reason people keep breaking into cars is because they keep finding valuables. Take away the incentive, and they’ll stop breaking into cars.
      Now scream about victim blaming. Or get over it and realize that stupid people who provide an incentive for people to commit crimes are part of the problem. If I left my front door wide open and then had a burglary, I am partly responsible. If you leave things in your car, you are partly responsible when it gets broken into. Does that suck? Yes. But you live in a major city and have to actually live like it, rather than imagining you’re in Mayberry and getting angry when the inevitable happens.

      • “The only reason people keep breaking into cars is because they keep finding valuables. Take away the incentive, and they’ll stop breaking into cars.”

        Not true. We’ve seen a lot of damage to cars lately (some posted to PoP) that have nothing to do with visible valuables, and it seems to be getting worse. The past couple of weeks, there were reports of cars being tagged. A few months ago, I remember there was an entire row of cars with windows smashed in for no discernible reason. I see a lot of smashed up cars (including neighbors’ cars) that were damaged for fun.

      • I have had my car broken into three times over five years and never had anything visible when I left it. Additionally, none of the break-ins ever actually stole anything even though it was clear they entered the car and looked around.

        So I don’t think the logic that if everything is out of site you are completely safe follows. I think thats a smart first step, but I think many of the break-ins are just hoping to get lucky and find something in the glove box or trunk that is out of sight.

      • Bs. I had my car broken into once; I accidentally left a bag of makeup I had just bought from cvs. Since then, I had learned my lesson and it didn’t do me much good. I still have had my car broken into twice, without having anything visible. And both of those times were in mt pleasant.

      • Ps a cop told me that when these assclowns are high – they don’t care if they don’t see anything. They will smash a window at the possibility of finding 50 cents in loose change.

      • Is it also someone’s fault when they walk on the sidewalk with a purse or backpack over their shoulder and get mugged? After all, they do have something that is presumably valuable in plain sight… Are they “stupid people providing incentives for people to commit crimes” and therefore “part of the problem”? What’s the best way to transport your wallet/cell phone/etc if that’s the case? I’m sure you have the best answer and I’m genuinely curious as a relative new-comer to the city of DC.

      • Telling people how to be street smart and victim blaming aren’t the same thing.
        Obviously cars are sometimes broken into with nothing in them; growing up here in the bad old days we used to leave our car empty and unlocked, once we still had our window smashed, that was frustrating.
        Fact is most thieves are going to want something to steal so if there is a car with stuff in plain sight it is more likely they will break into that than car than one without. Telling people that they will reduce the likelyhood of theft by leaving their car empty is enabling people to help yourselves. You people are entirely too defensive, this isn’t a sexual assault where a woman was asked what she was wearing or a college campus PSA telling women to wear turtlenecks and sweatpants.

  • This kind of thing tends to be cyclical everywhere. the best thing you can do is report obvious activity and talk to people who are obviously making themselves a target by leaving stuff in their car.

  • I lived on 15th right by the park for 5 years before moving last Fall. The # of smashed windows along 15th seemed to ebb and flow. There would be months where I’d walk by shattered glass at least once a week and then a month or two with hardly any broken glass. Sounds like things are “flowing” again…

  • The regularly smashed car windows start at Euclid on 15th if not before. (The same block where we had a shooting last night — http://www.popville.com/2015/04/shots-fired-in-columbia-heights/).

    I pretty much begged the police responding to the shooting to start patrolling 15th Street hourly (at least) at night, and while they seemed sympathetic, it was pretty clear that wasn’t going to happen. They suggested we install cameras in our building, but I don’t think that would actually lead to any meaningful change in the car break ins. So frustrating.

    • I often passed shattered windows between Euclid and Belmont too when living on 15th.

      For what it’s worth, there is often a MPD car parked across the street from the Ecuadorian embassy.

      • Oh yes. Euclid Street. 1987. My van had the passenger window smashed for a handful of loose change left on the dashboard. They examined my collection of alt-rock punk new wave cassette tapes but decided they weren’t worth stealing 🙂

  • I’m not even sure MPD thinks this is illegal.

  • justinbc

    When I saw the title I thought surely this was going to be about Logan Circle. When I lived there it seemed like I saw this window smashing every morning on my way into work, but then I looked up the crime stats and it was actually MORE than once per day in my area. It’s crazy, but there are also a lot of wealthy people in a tightly packed area who still haven’t learned not to leave valuables in their cars.

  • Maybe Columbia Heights needs to start a neighborhood watch

  • This happened to me on Irving between 13th and 14th earlier this week. Huge bummer.

  • I just got an email about there being an uptick of break-ins in my neighborhood (PSA 107, near Eastern Market). Interestingly, all the vehicles broken into were registered out of state. I wonder if thieves target out-of-state vehicles intentionally, knowing DC drivers are too savvy to leave valuables in their cars. I’m always parked on the street and it’s never happened to me in the decade I’ve lived here.

  • It happens frequently enough to basically justify paying for a parking spot. In 6 months we had a busted mirror and a window smash (after they tried to jimmy the lock and warped the door) = almost $1000 in repairs.

    • This. Between accidental damage, vandalism/break-ins, and tickets, it’s definitely worth the $125/month it costs to get an off-street parking spot in Columbia Heights. You’ll end up paying more in deductibles, repairs, and fines over the long run, IMHO. Not to mention heightened stress and value of lost time looking for parking.

    • Absolutely. I have an off-street spot that’s not even secured by a garage door or anything, but my car’s never been broken into or damaged. Several people in my building park on the street, and they’ve had a bunch of issues just in the past year.

  • I see it a lot on Harvard St., but I’m always surprised to see so much of it up and down 13th St., too, given the amount of car and foot traffic.

  • Theft from auto in Columbia Heights saw a huge spike between 2011 and 2014 but it seems to be leveling out or perhaps falling now. That could be due to a lot of factors — more vigilance by car owners, better police presence, etc. Or just coincidence — maybe the numbers will go back up next year. A lot of it you don’t have much control over. These types of property crimes are very difficult to prevent by police activity. And they are also very difficult to solve (full disclosure I had my window smashed back in 2009 just a block or two from a police station in Foggy Bottom). As more gentrification hits the neighborhood, these crimes of opportunity will continue. You can do your best to hide your stuff but I know people who had stuff stolen out of their trunks.

  • I feel like this is a problem all over DC. I live in adams morgan and it comes and goes in waves – we’ll have 5 or 6 broken windows within a couple blocks one morning, then none for weeks.

  • I live by Howard and in 6 years, I’ve had my car window smashed 5 times. Nothing of value ever taken. Even a brand new car with literally nothing in it, the window was smashed. Most of the break ins happen in the afternoon/dinner time. A new window is $195. An insurance deductible is $200. If you call the police, it will take hours for them to come and write up a report and they could mess up your car if they look for prints. So nothing is ever reported. It’s called living in a city, and don’t have a nice car or own nice things.

  • I see it weekly on T St.

  • This happens for the same reason parcel thefts happen. People keep thinking this is going to go away magically. Stop leaving open invitations.

    • Are you addressing this to FedEx, UPS and USPS, who sometimes leave our packages out in the wide open for no good reason? Or those of us who come home to find that our packages have been stolen? Because I think it’s pretty well established here already that even those of us who are very vigilant have package thefts.

    • So don’t buy stuff online? Maybe if more brick-and-mortars had better selection (especially clothing and shoes in small sizes) I’d do it, but most of what I get online can’t be procured easily at stores.

      • I request that all my packages be held at the closest FedEx/UPS to my house (although USPS is inside my building so I don’t have to worry about that.. which would be trickier). But it’s still annoying.

  • Sadly, this problem is hardly exclusive to Columbia Heights. I live in a neighborhood that is nowhere near any of the presumed sources of this type of crime, and it happens regularly on my block. I see broken car windows in all corners of the District. And I’ll bet that in every case, something of value, or even something suggesting there me valuables in the car, was plainly visible.

  • Saw glass from a car window on the ground on Newton and 16th just this morning. Happens enough that I’m thinking of buying a used car rather than new and have decided it’s a must to pay for off-street parking. Not cheap, but it’ll be worth it to avoid the hunt for a spot anyhow.

    • As mentioned above, I have had a car in DC for over five years and even with 3 break ins and one busted mirror, it is still far cheaper to park on the street then it is to get an off street parking spot. Especially when most car insurance policies offer glass coverage with a $50 or $100 deductible at a small premium to your existing coverage.

      I also dont think there is a ton of correlation between new vs used cars being broken into, or nice vs crappy, as my old car was broken into when parked next to far nicer new cars (it had nothing in it that was stolen, so there wasnt a reason to choose my car over the others that I could find).

      • Parking on the street is kind of a nightmare in my immediate vicinity, but you might be right that the new vs used cars being broken into less idea is in my head. Just seems like older cars (I never had a break-in in my 03 mazda, but then again I lived west of the park then) are less likely targets than the latest model.

  • Look, stopping smash and grab car break ins is, unfortunately, very difficult to do. The crime happens in less than 5 seconds, there is very little forensic evidence left in the way of fingerprints, and the only real way to stop it would be to have an (alert) police officer on every block.

    But as many have already said, there is a very easy way to prevent break ins: do not leave anything visible in your car. No bags, backpacks, or briefcases; no gps; no phones; no phone chargers; no takeout bags; nothing. If you need to leave a bag in your car, put it in your trunk. This isn’t victim blaming, it’s smart city living.

    • west_egg

      I had my car broken into last summer while sitting in the driveway behind my house — perp smashed the driver’s side window. I never leave anything visible — valuable or otherwise. In fact, there’s nothing of value anywhere in the car (unless you consider the owner’s manual or an old ballpoint pen valuable). In other words, I followed your “very easy” advice but it did not prevent my car from being broken into.

  • Our Councilmember has secure underground parking near U Street, so I it isn’t really on her list of concerns. Besides, best to not upset the parents of these criminals when you are counting on them in the next election.
    Don’t you have secure underground parking too?

  • Happened to me a few months ago. First time i called the cops they refused to even send anyone out to look at it unless i found them a witness. Eventually they came that night.

    Makes me want to plant something in a car and stake it out.

  • The problem is not only in CoHi. The Logan Circle/Shaw area is strewn with glass from shattered windows.
    NEVER leave ANYTHING visible inside your vehicle.

  • I’ve heard of window breakins in the alleys in CoHi as well. Just because you are off street you are not immune. Probably slightly safer, but still use your precautions.

  • I’ve had my 2002 car broken into twice within one month. Nothing was in the car except for the car manual and an ice scraper/broom. So stop the victim blaming.

  • It happened to me two times in 6 months, one with theft from auto. The police unfortunately said they ‘exhausted’ all leads. I found a forum on popville to search for stolen book bags but never recovered mine. Obvious rule is leave nothing in your car. But, the police did very little to help me track down my items. The police report was written with numerous errors.

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