In order to combat the No. 1 property crime in California, local law enforcement agencies teamed up with the Automobile Club of Southern California to host a free car window VIN etching event in Santa Maria on Wednesday. 

The annual event is held to raise consumer awareness of auto theft -- a crime for which California was ranked the top state in 2017, according to Auto Club spokeswoman Elaine Beno. 

On Wednesday morning, drivers pulled into the Auto Club Santa Maria branch office, located at 2033 S. Broadway, where auto theft officers applied federally-registered vehicle identification numbers onto all windows of their vehicles. VINs can help officers locate a stolen car and deter car thieves who need to replace VIN-etched windows. 

Often, thieves take the car for a joyride before abandoning it, or they steal it to sell car parts, according to California Highway Patrol Coastal Division Officer Jordan Richards.

"Hopefully, today's VIN etching event will prevent car theft, especially those who want to take it to a chop shop and sell the parts," Richards said.

Once a car has every window etched with a VIN, it makes it more difficult for car thieves to sell them, "because they'd have to change all the windows to match a number," Richards said. 

"We definitely see the opportunities for car theft decline for those who get their VIN-etching service," Richards added. "Car theft in this area is especially high, so hopefully more people will get the word out."

On average, the process takes six minutes, said Beno, who affirmed the club's mission to help the community deter car theft. 

Santa Maria resident Karina Lua left her office midmorning to get her VIN etching service done for the first time Wednesday. Although she has never been a victim of car theft, she has noticed "there are a lot of reports of stolen cars in the city."

"I live in western Santa Maria, and personally I want to just take precaution and be prepared," Lua said. "Better safe than sorry."

To deter would-be car thieves, Beno's first piece of advice to drivers: "Lock your car up. We've seen lots of theft occur because the car's left unlocked and the key's left in the ignition."

Her second tip: "Put your car in the garage if you can, versus parking it on the street or your driveway." 

Beno also encouraged drivers to remove personal items, bags, briefcases and even paperwork from a vehicle. 

Many car thieves "often look for paperwork, whether they include bank/credit card statements, anything that has personal financial information, which they could use to steal your identity," added Beno. "In essence, just remember this: If you don't need it in your car, leave it at your home."

Gina Kim covers crime and courts for Santa Maria Times. Follow her on Twitter @gina_k210


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