John Spevak: Theft of car yields lesson on prevention

June 26, 2013 

In a previous column I wrote that my Honda Civic, parked in front of my home, was stolen last month. I also noted that when I called the Los Banos Police Department to report it stolen, the dispatcher told me that they had already located my car.

Within five hours of making that phone call, the car — unharmed, except for the scattered contents of the glove compartment — was indeed back in my possession.

Today I'm going to explain what happened. Some of the explanation is based on fact and some on speculation.

First the facts. A day or two after the incident, I contacted Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee. He told me that earlier on the morning that I had reported my car stolen, the Los Banos Police Department took a report on another vehicle stolen from the neighborhood to which my car had been driven.

When they canvassed the area, officers saw my car and noticed the inside looked "disturbed." The police ran the license plate, and it came up "Spevak."

The officers on the graveyard shift didn't list the car as stolen, but because it looked suspicious, they passed the information to the day shift. That's how the dispatcher was able to tell me my car had already been found.

In fact that same day, police took four other stolen vehicle reports from around town, all of them Hondas, either Civics or Accords. The police found four of these five stolen vehicles the same day. I also learned that the police officer who did most of the work in locating the cars is officer Alfonso Flores.

Those are the facts. Before I get to the speculations, I need to stop and publicly thank officer Flores. What a remarkable job he did in finding not only my car but three others, all in one night's work.

Officer Flores' effectiveness that night is one remarkable example of the Los Banos's Police Department's determination to keep our community safe, in a world where challenges to safety seem to be everywhere.

Now onto the speculations. Why did someone steal my car and then just drop it off a mile away?

According to Chief Brizzee, it's not uncommon these days for thieves to steal a car in one part of town and drive it to another, then steal another car to get somewhere else. The longer thieves drive a stolen car, the greater their chance of getting caught.

How did the thieves happen to select my car to steal?

There's a good chance thieves picked my car because it's an older Honda. Chief Brizzee said thieves can steal older Hondas with a "shaved down" key; police have caught thieves in town with shaved Honda keys before.

Nothing was taken from my car except a spare key I kept "hidden" in the glove box. Should I worry about the thieves, now with a spare key, coming back to steal my car?

Chief Brizzee couldn't predict that, but it seems that the thieves wouldn't need my spare key; they probably already have a shaved key.

Although no paperwork seemed to be taken, could the thieves have written down my registration information and steal my identity?

Chief Brizzee couldn't predict that either, but he did suggest I alert my primary bank to monitor my account and the three major credit report companies to request a 90-day fraud alert.

Is there anything I can do to help prevent thieves from taking my car again?

Chief Brizzee said that the department is suggesting that owners of any car, but especially older Honda Accords or Civics, add security features to deter theft.

I have concluded that thieves today can probably steal any car they really want. But I decided to make it harder for them to steal my Honda.

Since I detest car alarms, I decided to buy a Club auto- theft prevention device at my local auto parts store. Now, at least overnight, my car has a very visible yellow metal stick attached to the steering wheel.

Well, dear readers, now you know as much as I do. Maybe it can help you prevent your car from being stolen or help you keep calm if you realize that your car is "gone."

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 29 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to

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