Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Just another crime statistic

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My car was broken into this week. It was parked, as it always is, in the downtown parking lot close to my building at Portage and Main. I don't know when the break-in occurred. I parked in the morning and returned around 6.30 p.m.

The thieves had smashed the rear passenger door by inserting a jimmy of some description into the metal frame around it. So, not only was the glass smashed into tiny jagged fragments scattered all over the back seat, the floor of the car and the floor of the parking lot, the window frame was bent, as well.

They didn't take anything because there wasn't anything to take. Maybe they had been misled by the glossy shopping bags on the back seat into thinking there were Christmas presents inside. I don't know. There were two other cars on that level in the lot at the time. Neither had been touched.

And so I become a statistic, another "victim" of downtown crime. The driver of the car parked nearest to mine was very solicitous: "Many people just leave their cars open here," he said. "Then they don't get their windows smashed." Read: It happens in this parking lot all the time.

But, my brain tells me this kind of crime happens everywhere. A friend had his car broken into in a St. James lot a couple of years ago at the same time of year. The thieves had stolen a design presentation he had made for us that we were taking to Los Angeles the following day. It had no value to them, but the packaging made it look as though it might have been worth something.

A lawyer friend had her BMW broken into twice in one week in downtown Toronto. An American television producer had his laptop and passport stolen outside one of Winnipeg's better-known restaurants. Memo to self: Don't leave important documents and valuable equipment in your car.

But the attack on my car didn't happen anywhere. It happened in downtown Winnipeg. I suspect the thieves jimmied the window instead of smashing it with a big hammer because it was quieter. The parking lot has an attendant and there are regular sweeps by a security patrol, but neither the attendant nor the patrol can be everywhere all the time. There's no way to prevent this type of crime.

I've been an advocate for the downtown ever since moving to Winnipeg late in 1996. I will continue to be so.

But, here is the problem. This is not the first time I've been the subject of thievery. A computer was lifted from my offices while its user was in the washroom. Another was stolen and ripped from the chain that bound it to the desk. On that occasion, the steel door that protects the office had been forced open with a crowbar.

And somewhere in Winnipeg, someone managed to steal the numbers and pin codes from my credit card and my debit card on separate occasions.

Lest it be thought we aren't security conscious, that is not the case. The office building has security. The doors need an electronic pass key and the elevators have a key as well. Now we have an alarm system. Both debit and credit cards have now been replaced with new cards with security chips.

But thieves are inventive and no doubt will find their way around alarm systems and chips. But you live and you learn. Anyone can steal anything from you anywhere. The new chips in credit cards are a great protection, but thieves still have ways of hacking into your accounts and stealing money.

Our offices haven't been broken into since we installed the alarm system and now we lock the doors every time we go to the washroom. I don't know what else to do to protect my car or whether I should reduce the deductible on the policy. Is it going to happen again? Quite possibly.

It's tempting to feel Winnipeg, and particularly its downtown, is crime-ridden because that is its reputation and whenever crime happens to you, it becomes personal and reinforces an image that is already present.

But I don't think that is the case. The house where I lived years ago in Toronto was broken into three times in three months and I was burglarized when I lived in London, England, too.

Crime happens everywhere. To protect against it, you need to be vigilant, believe it can happen at any time and take all the precautions and security measures the police recommend. That won't stop it from happening to you, but it will lower the risk.

Nicholas Hirst is CEO of Winnipeg-based television and film producer Original Pictures Inc.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2010 A12

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