Opinion: Care about our cars | Opinion

Opinion: Care about our cars | Opinion

As darkness sets in like a fog and the shrill sound of police sirens echo out, a malevolent energy rises up from cigarette ashes on the pavement below. Time slows, like traffic, as the hours become late and tired. Streets empty and lots fill. Cars sit paralyzed, listening to the passing trains’ horn blare through the night. At least the trains can escape, they think.

What comes next: the all too familiar tales of vandals and burglars who haunt streets at night. Cars perhaps know these stories best.

Crime against cars has risen across Oregon. Portland car thefts have seen a dramatic 62% increase from the past 10 years, and, last year on average, 20 cars were stolen everyday in the area. In Eugene, 2,556 car break-ins occurred in 2020, and vandalism as a whole is on a 63% rise.

When specific lots become high-risk for vehicular crimes, cities typically intervene to require security camera installations. But what if an entire city itself becomes high-risk?

It seems Eugene’s answer is to do nothing. Perhaps a lack of resources prevents the city or private lots from taking action — the swiftness with which cars are ticketed for parking violations both indicates and challenges this theory. Still, the more likely reason is that no one really cares. Be this true or not, cars essentially remain sitting ducks, waiting for the crimes against them to escalate.

In an abandoned lot on Broadway, car on car crime has reached treacherous heights. Being one of few free and relatively unmonitored lots in Eugene, drivers fight tire and rubber to ensure a spot. Cars are blocked in daily as the lot crowds. This, expectedly, upsets the trapped cars’ owners. Some leave notes or wait it out. Others, though, take a darker, more villainous route.

“My car was keyed all over,” Elliott Turner, a frequent parker in this lot, said. “It’s been happening to more and more people. I think it’s definitely someone at the [apartment nearby] doing it.”

At least three cars in this lot alone have been keyed with the words “Nice Parking” on the hood. The nearby apartment’s cameras do not reach the area, and the lot itself has no cameras. Turner, who filed a police report, was told the department “will continue to look” for the person responsible.

This lot is far from the only hub of car crime. Vehicular victims of violence are spread far and wide across Eugene, and stories like these can be heard from nearly every car owner in the city as their possessions are looted, their windows smashed and their dignity stripped. Imagine if it were you who were deliberately and routinely preyed on by predatory vandals and thieves night after night with little to nothing to protect you.

For many, this gruesome existence is reality. Consider Helen, who has had her window broken to bits, her bike rack stolen, her glovebox rifled through constantly and, one time, her doors literally left swung open. Most recently, her front tire was slashed with the word “walk” written into the dust on her door. Several items were taken from her, including napkins and registration. Helen, though, is not a person. Helen’s a car. My car. And she is a victim.

The targeted attack on cars like Helen and, at times, drivers in Eugene is nothing new. Last year, in a Diamond parking lot near the 959 Apartment building, student Jakob Klinenberg was sitting in his car when he noticed two men approach his vehicle.

“They were 5 or 6 feet away from my car when one of them pulled a gun out at me, yelling ‘get out of the car,’” Klinenberg said. Fortunately, his car was still in drive, and he was able to speed out of the lot unharmed.

Klinenberg reached out to the Diamond Parking company, who put him in touch with a lot owner who reportedly seemed more concerned with how his phone number had been reached rather than what had happened in his lot. “He basically was like, ‘I’m sorry that happened, but I don’t plan on putting in cameras or doing anything.’” After filing a police report, a detective met with Klinenberg the following day to look into the encounter. Two months later with no leads, though, the investigation was dropped.

Few may know that Eugene is internationally recognized as a city of peace. This declaration of peace accompanies a mission to transform and unite every neighborhood to ensure “security, empathy [and] collaboration.” Who, you may ask, reaps the benefits of this promise, of this protection? Certainly not the cars. They know no protection. They know no peace.

In a 2020 Emerald interview, Eugene Police Department’s Community Engagement Specialist Steven Chambers said, “Almost 100% of vehicle break-ins can be prevented.” I agree, Steven. Vehicular break-ins can be prevented, but not just by locking a car and taking out everything inside, as the Eugene Police Department website advises. Empty cars can still become victims of break-ins and other crimes.

If someone wants to smash your car window and steal cents in change, they will. If they want to key your car and slash its tires, they will. If they want to pull out a gun and threaten you, they will.

The city government needs to show that it takes these crimes seriously before they get worse. Consequences are necessary, and the inability to find perpetrators is no longer acceptable. Current city surveillance laws need to change and mandate security camera installations in public and privately owned parking lots.

If you care about your car and, more importantly, your community, call and urge the city council to ensure Eugene lot safety for cars and drivers alike. Your car story deserves to be shared and heard. You deserve to feel safe in your city.