Learning to lock up

CMPD takes crime competition to south Charlotte schools

Officers Beth Jackson and Mike Smith, community coordinators of the division’s Response Area 1, audited a car at South Mecklenburg High School, Monday, March 5, finding cash in the console, a visible charger and a GPS in the window. (Morgan Smith/SCW photo)

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department South Division launched a new competitive initiative earlier this week on local high school campuses to better educate south Charlotte’s teens on car break-in prevention. The community coordinators in all three of the division’s response areas will check South Mecklenburg, Providence and Ardrey Kell high schools once a week for the next 12 weeks, for unlocked cars and visible valuables such as sunglasses, chargers and iPods in plain sight.

Officers Beth Jackson and Mike Smith shook their heads Monday as they audited cars at South Mecklenburg High School, finding cell phone chargers, sunglasses and money in plain sight.

The two checked 50 cars on the school’s lot as a part of a new initiative by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s South Division to educate area teenagers on car break-in prevention. The station does a similar competition in area neighborhoods like Mountainbrook and Beverly Woods to teach people about leaving their cars and homes locked and closing garage doors to prevent crime.

“… We asked how we could spin (the program) and reach out to the teenagers,” Jackson, a police community coordinator in south Charlotte, said. “The main idea is that we want to get the message out to the teenagers so they take it back home with them.”

The department partnered with South Mecklenburg, Providence and Ardrey Kell high schools for a 12-week competitive program where officers in each response area will visit their high school once a week, auditing 50 cars at each school until May 25. Jackson said during the neighborhood competition, when auditing cars in communities, it was always evident which cars belonged to teenagers by what was left in them.

“We’re always preaching to the adults about (car break-ins), but never the teenagers – they don’t attend the community meetings,” Jackson added.

So with the help of the schools’ resource officers and student councils, officers hope to spread the word about the audits and help save the students from car break-ins in the future, whether at school, in their neighborhoods, the mall or movie theaters, although school car break-ins have not necessarily been an issue.

“When you’re here (at school), you feel a safe haven because I’m always here monitoring, but what about at Blakeney or at Stonecrest?” Julio Herrera, school resource officer at Ardrey Kell High, said. “With this program, the chances are less for them to be victimized.”

The program, which didn’t have an official name as of Tuesday, will work just like the neighborhood competition, meaning points will be given for unlocked doors and visible valuables, making the school with the lowest amount of points the winner.

Jackson said points will be calculated and updated each week to give each school an idea of where they stand. At the end of the competition in May, the school with the least amount of points will be awarded a trophy and bragging rights.

“Any chance we get to beat Ardrey Kell or Providence at something is going to spark our interest,” senior Jaclyn Mazzucco, an executive student council member at South Mecklenburg, said.

Mazzucco explained that in the beginning, some students were scared that officers were going to be searching their cars, but after further explanation to students that officers were just checking for valuables and would not be entering the cars, the students became more receptive to the program.

“I think students are going to be really happy once they find out what we are doing” and how this could help them, Mazzucco added.

The schools will receive bonus points, which will be subtracted from the score each week, through advertising of the program.

Anne McCanless, the Providence High School student council advisor, said at her school the students have already got to work advertising the new initiative through announcements on the morning news and plans to create a bulletin board in the school that will display the results from week to week. She added that student council members are becoming more aware of how to prevent car break-ins just through brainstorming ideas for the projects alone.

“I think students don’t recognize that break-ins in cars are a problem,” McCanless said. “They’re oblivious – I mean, they’re teenagers – but they are starting to recognize the problem.”

Mazzucco and the council at South Mecklenburg also are coming up with advertising efforts, such as brainstorming on how to get local neighborhoods involved in spreading the word, and making a parody video to get students’ attention, as well. Officer Herrera at Ardrey Kell said his students are working on more advertising efforts, but have pushed the initiative hard through posters and the school news broadcast.

“I presented the project to them and they became really enthusiastic about it,” Herrera said. “I think what I like most about the project is that it carries over to the community.”

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