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London police 'steal' from unlocked cars

By Raphael G. Satter
Associated Press

LONDON — British police are combing the upscale London neighborhood of Richmond, looking for things to steal.

Scotland Yard said Tuesday that officers in the southwest London borough would be checking unlocked cars for precious items - and sometimes taking them - as a reminder to owners to keep their doors locked, their windows closed and their valuables with them.

"The message to car owners is: 'Help us to help you,'" Richmond Police Chief Inspector Duncan Slade said in a statement.

The force said officers would either write to owners of the unsecured vehicles telling them to be more careful or - if they spotted high-value items in the car - "remove the property for safekeeping."

A note would be left for the owners explaining what had happened.

Scotland Yard said the exercise was meant to keep a lid on car crime in the borough, which has experienced a spike in thefts from inside vehicles. The force said that in many cases cars had been left unlocked.

One local lawyer warned that the stunt could get police into trouble.

"It undoubtedly is a trespass and there could be civil proceedings if a person shows a damage or loss has resulted from the trespass," lawyer and Richmond resident Orlando Pownall was quoted as saying by the BBC. He told the broadcaster that officers should make sure none of the items they took were damaged.

Police said the program, which has been running since the beginning of last month, has so far resulted in the seizure of only one piece of property. In the two dozen other cases in which cars with valuables in them were targeted, their owners showed up in the nick of time.

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