David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Stop Thief!

Brandon Sun, April 8, 2007 - David McConkey

I recently had an anti-theft immobilizer installed in our vehicle. So naturally I read with interest the news reports from Winnipeg about stolen cars being used there to run down joggers. These events got me thinking about citizenship in several ways.

My own immobilizer story started last November when I received a letter from Manitoba Public Insurance. The letter stated that our vehicle (1994 Ford Explorer) was among the vehicles “Most at Risk” of being stolen in Manitoba.

I was surprised that anyone would want to steal a 13-year old vehicle. Yet Manitoba Public Insurance offered to pay the total cost ($280) to install an immobilizer, plus give us a $40 break every year on our Autopac insurance.

The letter noted that auto thefts in rural Manitoba are increasing. Furthermore, the letter warned, “if you bring your vehicle into Winnipeg your odds of having it stolen have increased to 1 in 15!” (Obviously, the letter was not endorsed by the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce or that city’s visitors bureau.)

I phoned and got the next available appointment, four months away. Fast forward to the present, and I have a brand new immobilizer.

In the news items about stolen cars in Winnipeg, several points caught my attention. The first is how young these thieves are. Youngsters aged 13 to 16 have been arrested for stealing cars and then targeting pedestrians in what police call “some sort of sick game.”

Another point is that owners of the stolen cars themselves are being scrutinized. The specific brands of cars stolen were on the list of vehicles eligible for the free immobilizes. One official said, “I really don’t know why people aren’t doing this,” referring to owners not theft-proofing their cars.

Another interesting note: technology is increasingly being used to counter technically sophisticated thieves. Among the things promoted or considered in Manitoba: immobilizes in vehicles (including upgrading from the factory-installed ones), electronic monitoring ankle bracelets to keep track of offenders, and devices in police cars that can scan thousands of licence plates an hour.

Winnipeg police also have just set up a system on the Internet so that they, and the general public, can see exactly where crime is happening in the city. The same program is being considered for Brandon.

Good citizenship and a good society, however, consist of more than our installing the latest gadgets. Citizenship at its heart is how we interact with each other.

Many of these child car thieves, according to news reports, suffer from intellectual disabilities or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder - FASD. (Strange that these kids exhibit technical competence, at least at stealing cars, that is well beyond that of the average person.)

Their mothers obviously are at fault for drinking alcohol while pregnant, but what of the larger picture? Why would an expectant mother go against not only logic, but also every maternal instinct to do the best for her child? What about the social factors – such as ignorance, addiction, and abuse – that led her to that sad situation?

Massive youth crime causes more than damage to property and injury (and even death) to people. It also threatens our social and economic sustainability. As one newspaper in Winnipeg said, one dramatic auto theft story can undo “all the Spirited Energy campaigns money can buy.”

In the United States, auto theft has dropped substantially over the last decade. As I mentioned in an earlier column, some studies suggest this is because kids are playing more violent video games now. They are “getting their thrills on the screen instead of the street.”

Manitoba has a very high youth auto theft rate, not just for Canada, but for North America as well. This disparity refutes the notion that “tougher” sentencing of youth is the answer, as these federal laws are the same across Canada. (Manitoba Public Insurance reports that our auto theft problem is unique in Canada.)

If it takes a village to raise a child, then something is rotten in the state of our provincial village.

I hope these issues will be discussed in homes, Chambers of Commerce, municipal councils, and school boards, as well as in the next provincial election.
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See also:  

Perception and Reality of Crime Not Always the Same

Real Discussions on Tax and Crime are Being Avoided

Drug, Alcohol Policies Reveal Our Hypocrisy

What's Up With Grand Theft Auto?



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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