The new year has brought a steep uptick of automobile thefts in Minneapolis, with an estimated 90% increase in citywide incidents in the first three weeks of January over the same period last year, according to the Minneapolis Police Department.

There have been a total of 262 auto thefts reported across the city in 2020, averaging 13 stolen cars per day, police said. The daily average last year was 7.8 auto thefts per day.

The department's 3rd and 4th Precincts, which cover southeast and northwest Minneapolis, account for roughly 66% of all auto thefts in the city.

The "staggering" number of auto thefts are preventable, said Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder during a Friday news conference. He said 73% of the 262 autos stolen so far this year were taken after a vehicle operator left the car running. Three kidnappings were reported as a result of suspects stealing a car with a child in it. All three cases were resolved.

"Would someone take their cell phone out, put it on the gas pumps, go in to the gas station, shop, pay, come back out and still expect their phone to be there?" Elder asked.

He also cited food delivery workers leaving their car for "just a moment" and key fobs being left in cars as prime opportunities for thieves.

Police also warned residents not to leave anything of value in vehicles.

Suspects aren't necessarily going for the most expensive car they see, just anything that might be unlocked, Elder said.

In 2018, Minneapolis instituted an open-ignition ordinance, allowing law enforcement to cite people with a petty misdemeanor for leaving their cars running unattended with a key or a fob in the vehicle. Police also use "bait cars" to target would-be auto thieves.

Law enforcement is teaming up with city organizations aimed to get the word out to Minneapolis residents.

Steve Cramer, CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District, said his organization is dedicated to making downtown Minneapolis inviting to the people who live, visit and work in the area.

"We have enough hard public safety issues to be working on to have these self-induced problems adding to the challenge," Cramer said, encouraging the public to act with "common sense."

Henry Erlandson • 612-673-4789