Facebook Twitter

Idling, unattended cars give thieves a green light

SHARE Idling, unattended cars give thieves a green light

Despite frequent warnings from police, car thefts continue to be a problem in Salt Lake County due in large part to people leaving their cars idling and unattended.

New statistics from West Valley police show that from December to February, one in every three cars stolen in their city was the result of keys left in the ignition.

The biggest problem during those months was people leaving their cars unattended in the driveway while letting the engines warm up, said West Valley police Capt. Tom McLachlan.

Other victims, he said, left their cars running in front of convenience stores while they ran in "for just a second."

McLachlan said scenarios like that make things easy for thieves.

"You might as well put a neon car on the sign that says 'steal me,' " he said.

Sometimes a key to house or other keys are on the key chain stolen along with the car, McLachlan said. But West Valley police did not see a correlation of increased residential burglaries to go along with car thefts.

That simply shows, McLachlan said, that car thefts are crimes of opportunity.

With a few weeks of winter left, McLachlan again cautioned car owners not to leave their vehicles running and unattended.

"I know it's cold and you hate to sit in a cold car to go driving somewhere. But you're increasing your odds significantly if you're doing that," he said. "Do the smart thing. Make it easier on you and easier on the police department."

The statistics are similar in Sandy, where 20 cars were stolen in January. Of those, six were left idling or warming up in the driveway, said Sandy police Sgt. Mitch Howard.

A total of 269 vehicles were stolen in Sandy in 2005. During the winter months Howard said the majority of those were due to motorists leaving their running cars unattended.

"Despite all the warnings, people are continuing to do this for the reasons of convenience," he said. "Don't put yourself in a position to become a victim."

A car left warming up in a driveway nearly helped a suspect escape from police this week.

An officer spotted a stolen car near 4000 West and 3400 South about 3 a.m. Thursday and a chase ensued, McLachlan said. At one point the fleeing vehicle was cornered in a dead-end residential street, but the man tried to ram the officer's car and then drove over the sidewalk to escape, he said.

The man got ahead of police and abandoned the car. After running through the neighborhood he found another car left unattended and warming up in the driveway and took it, McLachlan said.

That car was also found abandoned a short distance later. A police dog from Salt Lake City was used to track the man to a nearby house, where he was arrested.

But McLachlan said the unattended, idling car could have resulted in the man getting away.

"If people are going to have cars idling in the driveway, why don't they sit in them?" he suggested.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com