Either car thieves in Minneapolis are getting more creative in their methods, or motorists have become more careless.
Those are two possible explanations for what police officials say is a nearly 22% jump in auto thefts citywide, year-over-year.
Officials last week issued an advisory about the uptick of such incidents in the city, with auto thefts skyrocketing in the First, Third and Fifth police precincts. There have been 1,496 such cases citywide through July 29, the most recently available department statistics show.
Police say that while newer cars come equipped with immobilizer systems and other anti-theft technologies, many cars are taken when owners leave them unattended with the keys inside, particularly during the winter.
In more than 60% of cases, the stolen vehicles had their doors unlocked, according to earlier data; 23% of the time, vehicles were taken when the keys were left inside, with motorists in downtown and on the North Side being the most likely victims. More than 40% of all stolen vehicles in each of those areas had the keys inside.
Police say that more than eight out of every 10 stolen vehicles are eventually recovered, suggesting that the acts are driven largely by practical motivations.
“The vast majority of auto thefts are committed by criminals looking for temporary transportation,” the advisory read. “Thus, most vehicles are recovered within a few weeks to a month and with relatively little damage. Very few vehicles are stolen for parts.”
Thefts of bait vehicles jumped to 21 through the end of last month from seven during the same period in 2018, police say. Police have started deploying the vehicles, which usually are rigged with audio and video recording equipment and engines that can be shut off remotely, to target car thieves in theft hot spots based on data analysis.
The known hot spots are: the corner of N. Dupont and 36th avenues; N. Penn and Lowry avenues; W. Broadway and N. Lyndale; SE. 13th Avenue and 7th Street; Cedar and Riverside avenues; E. Franklin, between 11th and Bloomington avenues; E. Lake Street and Bloomington; and Pillsbury Avenue, between Lake and W. 27th.
Officials say that parking restrictions have hampered their ability to deploy bait cars in certain areas prowled by would-be car thieves; they point to the numerous private parking ramps in downtown as an example.
On Tuesday, a City Council committee approved the use of a $416,000 state grant to help support the department’s anti-theft efforts.
At the same time, arrests for such crimes are rare: police have made 60 through the first seven months of the year, compared with 72 over the same period in 2018. This, as police are weighing a new pursuit policy that would limit officers from chasing suspects in cases involving property crimes, like a stolen vehicle, under most circumstances.
Under a list of tips for avoiding car theft, police suggest double-checking that all windows and doors are locked, parking in well-lit areas and turning your wheels toward the curb to “make it more difficult for a thief to ‘tow’ your car.”