Police: Keys left in cars making thefts easy

With 23 vehicles reported stolen since the beginning of August, the Columbus Police Department is advising people to stop leaving their keys in unlocked cars.

Such habits are contributing to an increase in stolen vehicles in the city.

“Nearly every theft has occurred because the vehicle was left unlocked with the keys inside,” said Sgt. Matt Harris, Columbus police spokesman. “If you leave your keys in the vehicle or let your car warm up in the driveway in the morning, it only takes a moment for your vehicle to be stolen.”

The two-month theft total includes motorcycles and mopeds reported stolen in the city. Harris said more than half of the stolen vehicles have been recovered.

Reports of stolen vehicles in the city increased from 129 in 2013 to 168 last year, a 30 percent jump, according to the department’s 2014 annual report.

Columbus police also are tracking increasing reports of thefts from vehicles, Harris said.

The Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department also is investigating a string of car, truck and trailer thefts, Sheriff Matt Myers said recently.

In the past three months, 24 vehicles and/or trailers were stolen outside Columbus in Bartholomew County, compared with 18 at the same time last year, Myers said.

The monthlong series of thefts involve vehicles that investigators believe are being used to joy ride for a short time and then are dumped or sometimes wrecked in rural areas of Bartholomew and surrounding counties.

In addition to these incidents, sheriff’s deputies said thieves have targeted construction trailers around the area looking for tools and equipment to sell on the street or at pawn shops.

Individuals taking the vehicles are targeting trucks that have visible tool boxes or tools in plain sight and taking the tools when ditching the truck in a rural area, detectives said. One of the most recently reported stolen trucks was discovered wrecked and abandoned in a rural area, and tools stored inside it were gone.

In some cases, owners of the vehicles have been out of town and not aware that the vehicles were stolen until they returned, which has further hampered law enforcement efforts to recover the trucks and personal property, detectives said.

In other cases, owners have left keys in the vehicles or the vehicles are unlocked, Myers said.

He attributed many of the thefts to drug abuse and people looking for items in the vehicles to pay for their drug habit.

A small number of people are often responsible for these types of thefts, and the Columbus Police Department has assigned an investigator to monitor repeat offenders, Harris said. From 2013 to 2014, the number of repeat offenders identified increased by 96 percent and those arrested increased by 103 percent, Harris said.

How to prevent vehicle thefts
  • Lock your car. It is common sense that many thefts happen to unlocked vehicles. The goal is to make your car less desirable than others, and a locked door is a simple deterrent.
  • Never leave your car running unattended and always take your keys with you.
  • Keep windows closed when you park and leave your vehicle. A slender arm or clothes hanger can reach in through even a narrow opening to unlock the door.
  • Don’t store valuables or expensive electronics in plain sight. Don’t create an unnecessary temptation: Take portable devices with you.
  • Park in a well-lighted, public place when running errands and at home. Also, a car will be safer in a garage than in a driveway or at a curb.
  • Use a visual warning device, such as a blinking light, as a deterrent. An alarm can be effective, but it is even better if the crook doesn’t break into the vehicle in the first place. If your car is not factory-equipped with these features, they can be installed at a local automotive stereo shop.
  • Smart keys or a fuel cut-off system, also known as an engine immobilizer, are standard on many late-model cars and can add security. Thieves are less likely to steal a car they cannot start.
  • For advanced protection, install a GPS or radio frequency tracking system in your vehicle to help police find it.

SOURCE: Consumer Reports

How to help

Anyone with information about recent vehicle thefts in Columbus is asked to call Sgt. Tom Foust at 812-376-2642. Tips and information may be left anonymously.

Those with information about vehicle thefts outside of Columbus in Bartholomew County should call the Sheriff’s Tip Line at 812-379-1712.

Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.