SAVANNAH, GA (August 18, 2011): Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police are battling an increase in auto thefts and thefts from autos, a large portion of which are  unwittingly enabled by the owners of the vehicles.


So far this year, SCMPD has investigated 44 more auto thefts than during the same time period last year, and 78 more thefts from automobiles. As many as 20 percent of the stolen automobiles were taken using keys left in the ignition and more than 40 percent of the thefts from autos were from vehicles left unlocked. The two crimes comprise 74 percent of the increase in crimes reported this year over 2010.


The crimes can evolve into other crimes: thieves who find unlocked doors also sometimes find keys to the car inside and steal them. Stolen automobiles often are used in other crimes.


“People have told us they sometimes purposely leave the doors open to keep thieves from breaking the windows,” said Savannah–Chatham Metropolitan Police Islands Precinct Detective Sgt. Jonas Robinson. “But many cars are left unlocked with enticing items left in plain view. Of those vehicles that were broken into, every one had an item in plain view that made it appear worthwhile to break in. And most of them were left in a secluded parking lot such as a boat ramp.”


In the Rose Dhu area of Coffee Bluff last week, for example, four vehicles were entered. Three of them were left unlocked and thieves stole from them a laptop computer, a CD player and a stereo, a wallet with credit cards and between $50 and $100 in cash.


“Thieves actually have a name for it,” said Islands Precinct Crime Suppression Unit Sgt. Chris Hinson. “They call it ‘jerking’. They jerk on the door handle to see if the car is unlocked and, if it is, they go through it.”


The thefts are coming after a year in which SCMPD recorded a huge drop in auto thefts. Police last year theorized that technology on newer vehicles made them more difficult to steal than the older models where steering column locks could be broken. And, to date only one auto stolen recently was an older model with a broken steering column. But keys left in the ignitions have voided that safety feature.


While he disagrees with the theory that leaving the car unlocked prevents break-ins, Sgt. Robinson has a suggestion for those who believe it: “Consider using a tote bag to place your valuables in and take it in the house with you or lock it in the trunk.”


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