During my early years in law enforcement, it was the general consensus of the law enforcement community that criminals were not very smart.

In fact, we believed them to be downright stupid. It was fairly common to believe that if criminals were not stupid; we in law enforcement wouldn’t be able to catch them so easily, aside from stumbling onto a crime in progress.

That is not to say that a good number of criminals were not apprehended by good old-fashioned detective work. To this day, following leads remains essential to a successful criminal investigation.

A self-made definition is in order here. I believe ignorance is the lack of knowledge, and stupidity is the misuse and abandonment of the elements of knowledge, one of which is judgment.

You won’t find that in Webster’s abridged dictionary but I stand by it.

Over the years, crime detection tools have improved by leaps and bounds, including the decoding of genes to positively identify anyone and everyone by their DNA.

Since the initial discovery of DNA decoding, monumental advances in the science have been developed. Today, DNA profiles can be extracted from almost anything possessed, handled or rubbed against by a human being.

Today, using all the tools available to law enforcement, criminals are not only easier to identify and arrest, but crime-solving rates are triple what they were back in the day.

Computerized files and databases are essential components in every police department. Small police departments without the means to create their own databases can rely on other larger departments in the area or on state resources.

Over the years, I’ve altered my opinion of criminals. While some of them remain as unintelligent as their predecessors, many have smartened up, so to speak.

For example, computer and Internet crimes occur in large numbers everyday. Users of the Internet must remain wary and take precautions to prevent being victimized. In this digital age, very little of one’s personal information is private.

Not all criminals are stupid. Some have developed innovative ways to either scam you or steal from you. Consider these tips:

Long-term parking

Travelers who use long-term parking at an airport should never leave vehicle registration documents in the vehicle while they are away. Anyone burglarizing your vehicle can obtain your address from those documents, and knowing you are away, burglarize your home as well as your vehicle. If you leave a garage door opener in your vehicle, you’ve given the thief a passkey to your home and your possessions.

Ground positioning system (GPS)

Your GPS device, whether factory installed or a stand-alone unit is a valuable tool, not only for you, but for any thief, particularly if you program your home address into your GPS device for a quick return route from a distant destination.

Do you see where I’m going with this? I do not enter my home address into my GPS.

I program the address of the local Police Department into the “home” slot. Anyone can find his or her way home from there. The thief will be surprised, don’t you think? Oops, gotcha!


How one lists contacts in one’s cellphone, especially a smartphone, can make a huge difference in whether one is victimized in the event the phone is ever stolen. Consider this carefully and thoughtfully.

Your handbag is stolen, containing money, credit cards and your smart phone. The thief peruses your contacts and finds “hubby” listed there. The thief texts your spouse under the guise of being you and tells him you forgot your bank PIN number. Your spouse, knowing it’s your phone, texts your PIN to the thief. Presto, your bank account is drained.

Consider instead, listing all contacts by first name only. You know who they are. Avoid listing relatives as home, hubby, honey, sweetheart, dad or mom.

If you are ever asked for sensitive or financial information by text message, always call back, not text, to confirm the request. We must become and remain smarter than those who seek to victimize us.

John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.

John Vander Werff is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and a Copperas Cove resident.​

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