South Meck gets shot at redemption

A recent wave of parking lot crime at South Mecklenburg and Charlotte Catholic high schools was just the push Officers Beth Jackson and Mike Smith needed to get the ball rolling on educating students to keep their valuables locked up.

It’s not the first time they’ve taken action to the schools, completing a school crime competition in June between South Mecklenburg, Ardrey Kell and Providence high schools, where Providence was named winner; South Mecklenburg came in second. But after several recent car break-ins this school year, during and after school at South Mecklenburg and local rival Charlotte Catholic High, Jackson saw a great opportunity to launch round two of the competition.

“We planned on doing it anyway, but then once we got some car break-ins, we decided to do it again soon,” Jackson said.

The competition, which kicks off Thursday, Nov. 1, and runs through Feb. 1, will educate teenagers on car break-in prevention. Officers will check 20 random cars on the school’s lot each week to make sure doors are locked and no valuables are left in plain sight. 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.

Main items that officers will look for are phone chargers, purses, bags, iPods, iPod cords and cash. Points will be given as deductions, one point each for unlocked doors and visible valuables. 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, the school with the least amount of points will be awarded a trophy and bragging rights.

“Majority of what we saw last year (left in vehicles) were iPod cords and phones, and students were surprised by what people would break into vehicles for,” Jackson said, adding that many students have the mindset that “It won’t happen to me.”

This school year, there have been around seven car break-ins at South Mecklenburg High School, school resource officer William Sutton said, and at least one at Charlotte Catholic High, Jackson said.

An arrest was made at South Mecklenburg High after an area neighbor saw a teen walking through the school’s parking lot, Jackson said. The teen, who does not attend South Mecklenburg High, confessed to breaking into six cars in the parking lot, some unlocked and some not.

“We’ve been having some problems with car break-ins, but more were during sporting events and stuff. Last year we had more problems during the school day, so I think it’s actually gone down from last year,” Sutton said about South Mecklenburg. “I think the competition has been very positive.“

Sutton said when he first heard about the competition last year, he wasn’t sure that the students would take the program seriously. He quickly realized he was wrong after seeing how excited and motivated the students were to help deter crime, he said. After last year’s competition proved to be a success, he’s tried to continue checking cars to help ensure students’ valuables are safe.

“Especially recently with all the break-ins happening – about twice a week I drive around and check the cars,” he said, notifying students if there doors are unlocked or if they’ve left valuables in plain sight. “I think it’s getting better and I don’t see a lot of items out. And the kids are talking about it – they know about the break-ins.”

He said chargers and cords are items he still sees problems with, which might make people think there are valuables hooked up or hidden in the car’s console, he said. Wallets are no longer an issue, he said, but iPods and sometimes cellphones still are.

“The problem we had in the past was that kids weren’t locking their doors,” Sutton said. “They’ve done a lot better at keeping the doors locked.”

Both Sutton and Jackson say they hope the competition will encourage students to take their knowledge home to their parents to help prevent break-ins not only in neighborhoods, but also after-school hours at athletic and club events. The competition also is directed to teachers, faculty and staff at the schools, where Sutton said many are just as guilty as the students about leaving valuables visible.

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