As thefts from vehicles in Madison increase, a billboard along the Beltline will be encouraging people to lock their doors.
A monthlong Madison Police Department billboard campaign and ongoing social media efforts are reminding people to lock their vehicles and homes amid a rash of thefts and stolen guns from unlocked vehicles.
The department unveiled its message Wednesday on the South Side, where a billboard on Applegate Road between Fish Hatchery Road and Park Street encourages westbound Beltline motorists to “lock it or lose it.”
“We’ve noticed an increase recently in certain types of crimes and one of those crimes that was really of concern to us was thefts from automobile,” said Madison police Crime Prevention Coordinator Emily Samson.
“We’ve noticed a staggering number of weapons being stolen from mostly unlocked vehicles in the city of Madison and so we realized that we needed to find a way to reach out to people and help remind people of the importance of locking your doors,” Samson said.
Digital billboards in DeForest, Middleton, Sun Prairie and Waunakee will also bear the same message.
The billboard campaign — which will reach hundreds of thousands of motorists each week — is coupled with a social media campaign that kicked off last month.
Police hope increased awareness about leaving vehicles and homes unlocked leads to fewer thefts. They say unlocked vehicles are to blame for many of this year’s approximately 1,280 thefts from vehicles.
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West District Capt. Cory Nelson said 68 guns have been stolen from unlocked cars since last year, including 27 this year. In addition, he said 373 cars have been stolen this year in Madison, which is on pace to exceed the 379 taken in 2016.
Nelson said some of the stolen guns have likely been used in “shots fired” incidents, which have increased drastically this year.
“Leaving your car unlocked leads to guns being stolen (and) leads to cars being stolen,” he said. “It leads to shots fired, it leads to kids shooting at each other, it leads to home invasions, to armed robberies.”
Many of the thefts have been committed by opportunistic youth, he said, adding that they often steal cars for “joy rides.”
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said drivers should not leave vehicles idling and should lock them even when they are in a garage.
Calling it “Crime Prevention 101,” Community Outreach and Resource Education Officer Tyler Grigg said the department’s daily evening “#NightlyLockup” posts have led to more of its thousands of Twitter, Instagram and Facebook followers locking their vehicles. It’s the department’s first social media awareness campaign, modeled after similar efforts nationwide.
“People are seeing this content,” Grigg said. “They’re re-sharing the content and they’re actually locking their vehicles.”