How many times do you have to tell someone to do something before they change their behavior?
If you ask officers with the Metro Nashville Police Department, they will likely say too many.
For nearly a decade, police — through the Park Smart auto theft prevention program — have been urging motorists to hide valuables, lock their vehicles and take the keys when parking, even for just a few minutes.
The message may seem simple, but 40 percent of cars that are reported stolen in Davidson County each year have the keys left inside, according to police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford.
“[The percentage has] pretty much held steady each year,” she said. “But you can’t stop educating people, even if they continue with the behavior.”
But the number of auto thefts has decreased since the program’s inception.
From Jan. 1 to June 12, only 888 auto thefts have been reported in Davidson County. In August 2000, when former Chief Emmett Turner launched the program, the department reported that 3,024 cars had been stolen between Jan. 1 and Aug. 16.
In 2008, there were 2,693 car thefts (1,065 with keys) and in 2009, there were 1,759 (743 with keys), Mumford said.
“The program really is helpful in our downtown areas,” she said. “And around Christmas, we hit hard around the malls.”
During the CMA Music Festival, Central Precinct officers got creative in their educational efforts. They handed out custom-made guitar picks branded with the Park Smart message: “Remove keys, lock your doors [and] put valuables in the trunk.”
The tiny plastic plectrums, which are inexpensive and tangible reminders to use common sense when parking downtown, received an overwhelmingly positive response from downtown visitors.
Another way officers are spreading the message is by putting fliers on cars that have valuables in plain view.
“They actually have officers walk from car to car, and if they see your GPS systems, your laptop, a purse kind of haphazardly pushed under a seat, they put a flier on your car,” Mumford said.
Funds for the Park Smart program come from each precinct’s discretionary fund.