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“I think that 10 car break-ins or vandalism on one block constitutes a need for some action”

by Prince Of Petworth January 6, 2016 at 12:10 pm 49 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Lorie Shaull

“Dear PoPville,

Would you please consider running a post about the crime in Brookland, in particular recent slew of car vandalisms and break-ins along Newton Street NE between 1200 and 1600 blocks? On the 26th of December I walked out onto my front porch to find a group of 6 young black men rifling through my neighbors car. When I realized they clearly weren’t my neighbor I yelled to distract them and then called the police. My neighbor said she had her car locked that evening. On the 29th of December, I was sitting on my couch and heard loud voices on the street early around 1am. When I looked out my front window, I noticed there were about 10 young men inside another neighbor’s car across the street, doors and hatch opened. I quickly grabbed the phone and called 911 and in both cases, the police responded promptly, but unfortunately these men dissipated quickly. My other neighbor also said her car was locked when the police arrived.

In both incidents there was no forced entry into the vehicles or glass broken. The police mentioned the potential use of universal radio frequency transponders that are being used to enter cars and there is no way to stop them other than to get a direct visual on a perpetrator and provide that to the police. I sent a message to the Brookland list-serve and three more people have come forward in the vicinity of thee two incidents saying large groups of young men have been accessing cars with some sort of universal FOB.

The police suggested that residents on our blocks individually install surveillance cameras on our homes. Since the summer, there have been 10 instances of car break-ins or vandalisms on my block alone (1500-1600 block of Newton St NE), and I find it extremely problematic that the solution would be to purchase, monitor and maintain my own surveillance system for the exterior of my home when MPD has camera systems available that could be mounted on telephone poles in areas of high crime density. The police suggested that I send a message to Council Member McDuffie, Chief Lanier, and Mayor Bowser if I expected to get a camera mounted on my block which I did yesterday, only to have Council Member McDuffie forward my message on the Brookland list-serve to the Ward-5 police for further review.

I think that 10 car break-ins or vandalisms on one block constitutes a need for some action, and that action not being my block banding together and creating a home-surveillance hub here in Brookland. Quite frankly, between the home and car break-ins and the rash of shootings here in Brookalnd in 2015, there is a problem in this neighborhood that is not being addressed. We deserve a safe and secure neighborhood and if that means more proactive camera surveillance by MPD and more patrol presence on foot, bike and vehicle, then why don’t we have it? Instead, the law enforcement does the best they can in reactive mode with no way to visually ID any of the perpetrators who know that the minute they hear sirens or see flashing lights, they can disappear into the alleys of Brookland under the cover of darkness.”

  • Jaime

    Your story sounds the exact same as my neighborhood in Fort Lincoln (across from Costco). We got the same message from police. Install our own cameras, etc. Very disappointing. We have had tons of car break-ins, and all of the cars were locked.

  • Anonymous Shaw Dweller

    All of us city dwellers and the central core are prone to the nonsense and frustration of both petty and larger theft. It is disgusting, frustrating and downright unacceptable. Living in the U Street/Shaw corridor, we seem to have a nightly occurrence of car break ins. While I have lived in DC for 25 years, I have never left visible items in my car an never have had a car break-in. I was quite fascinated and disturbed, however, by your iteration of the police comments which stated that “radio frequency transponders” are being used to gain non-damaging entry into cars. It appears that we need to hold car manufacturers responsible for producing a product which can be so easily violated/broken.

    • Kingman Park

      When police resort to victim blaming, they have accepted that their city has gone to shit. Don’t expect much from them ever.

      • Petworth

        How is stating the methods of the criminals “victim blaming?” It’s not blaming anyone except the people using the transponders.

      • ET

        Explaining how the perpetrators got into the car is not victim blaming. Victim blaming would have been actually saying “you shouldn’t have bough a car that allow thieves to break into your car with an electronic gizmo”

        • an


    • Ross

      I never leave a single visible item in my car. Despite this, my front passenger window was smashed in, the car rifled through, and upon finding nothing of major value in the car (they did steal some jumper cables out of my trunk as well as an emergency shovel), they hit and cracked my windshield (I’m presuming because they found nothing of value?). So even leaving nothing visible doesn’t mean you’re immune.

  • CHV

    If these cars all have keyless entry, they may be using a signal amplifier to trick the car into thinking the key fob is right next to it. The amplified signal reaches the key fob in, say, your kitchen, and the door unlocks.

    • Anonymous Shaw Dweller

      Do you know the maximum distance for which a key-cartridge can be amplified? Is there any method by which a key-owner can block or prevent (such as placing key-cartridge in metal box) an amplifier from working? Also, is the “amplification” feature applicable to all vehicles, old and new, or only certain, older years? Thanks in advance for your comments.

      • blindbible

        Wrap it in foil, worked for Mel Gibson in a sort-of-relevant way.

  • Anon

    Don’t leave shit in your car. Maybe they’ll still go for the radio but not having anything visible on the seats or floor will massively decrease the chance of a break-in.

    • FridayGirl

      Lots of people say “don’t leave shit in your car” but there was a huge car break-in spree in Glover Park last summer and I remember quite a few people saying that they DIDN’T leave shit in their car, but thieves still break in to try to gain access to the glove box and trunk (and other out-of-site places) whether or not anything is actually in there … even if nothing is visible.

      • Anon

        It’s much less likely. And if they do break in…nothing is taken. Just common sense when living in a crime-prone area.

        • FridayGirl

          That is true. But imo, there’s also a separate aspect of feeling violated (or having your window smashed if they do it the old-fashioned way) that’s still a sucky thing to deal with — particularly if they harm your car in any way for nothing.

      • textdoc

        It’s not clear from the OP’s post whether any of the broken-into cars had stuff visible in the car. (It seemed that the focus of the OP’s post was more “People are breaking into cars using a method that makes it harder to detect and report them, and the only option the police are giving us is for us to install our own surveillance cameras.”)
        FWIW, what Anon 12:38 said generally holds true. Not leaving stuff visible in your car won’t deter people who are vandalizing for the sake of vandalizing, or who are hoping to find worthwhile stuff in a glovebox or trunk… but it still makes your car a less attractive target than, say, the car behind you that has a gym bag in the back seat.

    • Ann

      I had my car (2005 Camry) broken into recently (they smashed the back window) and the only thing of value that was stolen (because I always leave my car completely empty) was about $5 worth of coins in the CLOSED ashtray. I think these thieves figure its worth the risk that they’ll find something of value even if there is nothing visible through the car windows. The most painful part was having to spend $250 on a new window for a $5 robbery since the damage didn’t meet my insurance deductible. Don’t victim blame – even people who use common sense are prone to this kind of crime.

      • FridayGirl

        YES — exactly this.

  • The OP Anon

    Probably a RollJam. The perp actually needs to be nearby when you try to lock the car. If you see someone sitting near your car, be alert.

    • Glen

      Could be one of these methods where someone just has to cycle through and find one out of a possible 256 “backup” codes. Seems like someone could stand in the middle of a street and cycle through the codes and listen for cars unlocking.


  • madmonk28

    Who let the Virginian in?

    • Brookland Guy

      Excuse me? Virginian? This is the most insulting thing I’ve read all day. How sad that people should expect the norm in DC to be crime ridden and god-forbid people raise issues in their community and try to be proactive? Do you live on this street and have you been impacted by this problem? If not, then please reconsider these flippant pejorative comments – they don’t make the problem better, particularly for those who have been impacted.

      • Anon

        Thank you.

  • Brooklander

    We’re at Kearny and 18th in Brookland and our (locked) car has been broken into and rifled through 3 times in the last 6 months. There’s never been any physical damage, nor anything stolen, although the least they could do is clean up after themselves. Putting my glove box back together on the way to work is a major nuisance.

    We’ve never bothered to report it but there is obviously a universal transponder or two floating around the neighborhood. I’m not sure what, realistically, can be done about it, other than a technological fix from the car makers. It seems like you’re highly unlikely to get a good enough image unless a camera is mounted in the vehicle itself. In which case they’d just steal the camera.

    • anon

      If you don’t report crimes, the police don’t know where to focus their limited resources.

      • textdoc


        • FridayGirl

          +100. I’m always amazed at the fact people don’t want to report stuff like this.

      • Brooklander

        Understood. Ideally I would report it. FWIW, we’ve reported a handful of other things (assaults, property damage, etc.), so I’m fairly certain they have a sense of where to focus resources (e.g., “Washington DC”). In my defense, if I reported every nuisance crime I witnessed/endured I’d spend most of my time talking to the police.

    • AngelaGirken

      I know it’s a hassle, but please report these instances.

  • Timebomb

    I’ve had my car broken into many times. The only negative result (besides some ruffling of papers) has been the time they broke the window and I had to spend $200 to get it fixed (and had to go without my car for a day when I coulda used it). SO if more kids are getting their hands on these universal unlockers, seems like a plus to me.
    Technically speaking, there is nothing car manufacturers can do about old-model cars being susceptible to this technology. They all probably used a small handful of frequencies and really short encoding strings (if even employed) that could easily be bruteforced by a handheld computer today. If someone is really concerned (and doesn’t mind risking a broken window), they could look into physically disabling the remote unlock features on these cars.

  • CarTalk

    Two cheers for no key-less entry! The joys of having an older car! I don’t do it with my car but a friend of mine just leaves nothing in the car and leaves it unlocked (late 90’s jeep that it beat). Not really the best idea but no one has smashed his windows since he started doing it.

    • jumpingjack

      Seriously. This is the first time in like forever that I’ve been happy I have an ancient car with an old-fashioned key.

      • I Dont Get It

        Me too!

  • anonymous

    I’m very much on the side of “mind your own business” or “didn’t you see the car when you bought the house in the first place?” but if you want to do something constructive, maybe verify that the owner leaves the doors locked on the cars.

    A couple years ago an autistic child was found dead in an unused vehicle in Trinidad that he was able to enter: http://newsone.com/2628598/find-our-missing-michael-kingsbury/

    • textdoc

      I think you meant this for this afternoon’s other car-related thread.

      • Beau

        Though it works surprisingly well as a rebuttal to CarTalk’s statement above.

  • jonah

    One of the reasons I have heard that MPD promotes houses and businesses getting street facing cameras is they often are at a better angle to get a picture of a face. The overhead cameras mounted on street light poles face downward and may not pick up details about a person. They also are only valuable for the portion of the block where they are located. If the break-ins are happening in a four block range, 1200-1600 Newton, they may not be a real deterrent. And I say this as someone who similarly has requested an MPD camera be moved without luck.

  • Ex-Brooklander

    I am so sorry this keeps happening. As a recent ex-Brooklander, I remember seeing the constant posts about car break-ins (and break-ins in general) in this area of Brookland. This may be a far-fetched suggestion, but maybe the neighbors on the block can all pitch in some $ (through one of those money-raising websites) and buy an outdoor surveillance camera (or a few) and mount it so it captures the street. Something absolutely needs to be done about this and it angers me that people are so flagrantly abusing the same small area of 20017.

  • General Grant Circle

    While this happens in my neighborhood in DC, it also used to happen in my suburban neighborhood in MD, Infuriating to be sure, but best practice is to not leave valuables inside

  • textdoc

    I think Jack5 was mentioning something like this happening several months back (people using keyfob codes to pop trunks and/or unlock cars), but I can’t seem to locate the post in question.

  • Brooklander

    I have no idea if this is valid, but a few articles on this type of technology suggest that keeping your keys in the freezer may block the signal – caveat that some remote keys are not meant to go above/below a certain temperature so check before you do it.



    Would love to hear from someone who knows more about the tech itself as to whether or not that actually works.

  • Annon MPD (2)

    Most people won’t like my honest post but here it goes.

    With the department short of officers car break ins won’t fit the mold for a high crime area. Trust me I wish we had the man power to help but when you have assaults, stabbing, robberies, shootings, and such where does the limit man power go towards?

    The cameras are our way of saying we need help because we don’t have the man power to do it ourselves. We are all in this together

    • Kingman Park

      “Trust me I wish we had the man power to help but when you have assaults, stabbing, robberies, shootings, and such where does the limit man power go towards?”

      Are you implying manpower is being put towards these kinds of crimes as well?

    • Rich

      If the city has a large enough budget to waste $200 million on a streetcar that doesn’t carry any passengers, or rip up perfectly good sidewalks on three blocks of Newton and replace them, then there’s no reason the city can’t afford to hire more cops.

    • James W.

      Well, here’s the thing. MPD tells you it is short of officers. That’s different from being objectively short of officers. Washington DC has the most police of any city in the nation as a percentage of its population. Yep, more than Baltimore, more than New York City, more than Chicago. Yet somehow that’s not enough.

  • Rich

    Bowser, McDuffie, and Grosso — who actually lives around the corner from this block on 15th ST — have been shamefully unresponsive to the problem. They routinely fail to respond to calls and emails to their offices, treating us not as constituents but as nuisances.


  • CD

    Organize as many neighbors as you can and reach out as a group and insist on a meeting with your Council member and your precinct commander. Consider forming a neighborhood watch. Report every incident, publicize the problem on neighborhood list serves, target interested local beat reporters, and insist on accountability and measurable progress. When similar incidents reflecting an ongoing pattern occurred on our block several times every few years, this is what our neighborhood did.

    Ultimately your precinct commander owns this problem. He or she should give you their cell number. In our case we had a responsive proactive commander who assigned patrols, determined most likely times the break-ins were occurring, worked with neighbors to position an officer on a row house roof as a stake out, and after bout two weeks caught the perpetrators who they were familiar with from repeated issues, and solved the problem. The reality is the police cannot address every incident and those that maintain constructive continued engagement eventually receive it.

  • JohnH

    Had my car broken into last night at 9th and S. No sign of forced entry, so guessing it was one of these scanners or whatever. Rifled through what little stuff was in there, but did not take anything (had nice sunglasses in there that were not taken). Clearly just looking for quick & easy. Thankfully no damage done. Reporting to the police now…

    • Anonymous Shaw Dweller

      What year is your car? Is this entry-techology/criminal enabled by all new vehicles or only older models?

  • Kel

    I had loaner car from Audi parked on the 600 block of S street NE by the old wonder bread building. Between 2pm and 4pm some smashed the passenger side window to access the vehicle taking a gym bag with toddler swimwear, as well as my gym bag. This happened in broad day light on a street where people are constantly walking through. Nothing of value was taken other then the content in the bag but having to pay a deductible for it is frustrating. Its a shame that people are doing this.


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