Patricia P. is a Montrealer living in the Village. In the last four months, her car has been broken into 5 times.
"The first [break] in happened on April 7th. They trashed my car with garbage and all the papers I had [...] like books and manuals, were left spread across my car. They only physically damaged my right mirror," whose plastic case was cracked.
"Then on June 19th they broke in again and they broke through the small window on the passenger side on the right. They left the car open and all the papers spread around the car again. Then on July 2nd they broke in again and this time they left garbage on my car, like snack papers and tissues. Not even a week later they broke in twice and left a similar scenario on July 5th and July 8th."
After filing online reports for the first 4 break-ins, Patricia finally decided to visit a police post.
Her insurance didn't cover such incidents but she hoped police would launch an investigation.
But an officer explained that "there are no investigations open in my area nor will they open an investigation based on my reports. I told him I was willing to do it just so it would fall on the stats and then he replied saying that given that there had not been any sort of expensive or risky item stolen it was not going to go in the statistics. So I was just wasting my time."
In fact, according to public crime data, thefts from on or within a vehicle, the reason for most car break-ins, constitute the most common crime on the island of Montreal. Between 2015 (the earliest year for which data is available) and the present, there were 31,051 reported thefts.
In the same time period, for context, there were 26,434 midemeanours, 15,967 vehicle thefts, and 6,413 other thefts.
"Thefts from inside or on vehicles can be described as opportunity crimes," the SPVM tells MTL Blog. "For example, a thief walking randomly in a street will notice a valuable item left prominently on the seat of an automobile. If no witnesses are nearby, he may be tempted to take the opportunity to break the window of the car in order to seize the object."
That might explain why areas with higher foot traffic see more thefts than other neighbourhoods. Public data shows that thefts from within a vehicle have been most concentred in Ville-Marie roughly between ave. Atwater in the west and rue Jeanne-Mance in the east, and rues Sherbrooke in the north and de la Gauchtière in the south.
The Old Port is also a hot spot for such thefts, particularly, it appears, between rues St-Nicholas and St-François-Xavier and along blvd. St-Laurent.
Other popular areas for thieves include Mount-Royal Park and ave. des Pins, and the lower Plateau Mont-Royal and Gay Village between blvd. St-Laurent and ave. Papineau, in Patricia's neighbourhood.
Hochelaga-Maisonneuve between rues Moreau and Viau, and Park-ex/Mile-ex between blvd. St-Laurent and rue d'Iberville also appear to have a higher density of thefts from within vehicles.
Outlier spots, specific points where a high number of thefts have occurred, include the streets surrounding the Galeries d'Anjou as well as l'autoroute Félix-Leclerc in DDO and Pointe-Claire, the intersection of blvd. Lacordaire and l'autoroute métropolitaine in St-Léonard, and blvd. l'Acadie in Ahuntsic-Cartierville.
All maps reproduced here display all data from between January 2015 and June 2019.
But despite the perhaps overwhelming number of blue dots on these maps, the number of thefts from within or on a vehicle has steadily declined in each of the last 4 years — from 8,271 between January 2015 and January 2016 to 6,680 between January 2018 and January 2019 — a decrease of almost 20%.
The SPVM, in a statement, called this decline "good news" but was unable to identify a single cause: "Several factors must be taken into consideration to analyze and better understand this decrease. It would therefore be difficult to identify a specific action that could explain it alone."
Neighborhood Posts, a police spokesperson explains, "address this local issue in three ways: by educating citizens, giving prevention advice and arresting criminals who commit these crimes."
On its website, the SPVM outlines a number of ways Montrealers can avoid theft, including by taking care to not store valuables in the glove compartment and making sure all doors are locked when the car is parked.
But Patricia's story also provides troubling insight into the public data concerning car break-ins, which does not reflect incidents in which nothing of importance is stolen.
If the public portal only tracks thefts, there is no way to know exactly how many break-ins occur each year.
The true number might be much higher than public data suggests.