Auto thefts are up 63% in Essex County, say police, who have a warning for residents
It’s a statistic that raises eyebrows: Essex County OPP says there’s a 63% increase in vehicle thefts over the same time last year.
And often that means people leaving their keys or fobs unattended in their vehicle.
const. Steven Duguay says organized crime is often linked to auto theft. But apart from that, he says, they are usually “crimes of opportunity”.
“You’ll have people walking around neighborhoods at night and checking car door handles, looking for change, or someone leaving a wallet or cellphone or computer,” he said.
“Once they are in your vehicle, if the vehicle was left unlocked and the key is in, they will take advantage of it then. Their purpose was not [originally] to steal the vehicle, but now is an opportune time.”
During the winter, he says, these incidents tend to increase because people leave their cars running to warm up the engine.
Duguay says there are various reasons why people leave their keys in the summer. For some families, it’s a matter of convenience.
“We’re seeing a trend where you’ll have a household with three or four cars, they’ll park in the driveway, and someone has to leave for work in the morning,” he said.
“Instead of waking someone up, he just leaves the keys accessible, whether even in the garage or inside the vehicle.”
Lauren Adams of Lakeshore says her vehicle went missing the night of July 13 when she mistakenly left her garage door open.
“I thought [my husband] was joking when he told me my car was gone,” she said. “He wasn’t. It was really missing from our garage when we woke up.
“I asked him if the garage door was open when he opened the door to the house, and he said yes. I then realized that I had left my purse in the car, along with my keys. inside, and it’s a vehicle start button. We immediately called the police.
Luckily for Adams, the 2019 Hyundai SUV came with an app-linked GPS tracking system. She and her partner were able to retrieve their vehicle later that evening by locating it on their phones and activating the alarm system, which they believe scared the thieves away from the vehicle.
“They could have taken so much more. They could have also entered our house where our eight-month-old baby was sleeping,” Adams said. “But no, they just wanted the car.”
Adams used his phone to locate his vehicle west of the Ambassador Bridge. Once recovered by the police, it was returned to him later that evening. Adams says that although her purse was missing, she was grateful that her vehicle was returned to her.
Property theft is also on the rise this year, according to the OPP, and that’s in conjunction with the trend in vehicle theft.
“What these criminals do is… as an example, a vehicle will be stolen in the city of Windsor, they will go to the county, they will commit other crimes and once they locate another vehicle, they abandon the stolen vehicle in Windsor and then move on to the new vehicle,” Duguay said.
Someone broke into Jesse Brooke’s vehicle in Kingsville on July 26 when valuables were left inside.
“We’ve been here for over 20 years. So sad to see this happening in our neighborhood,” Brooke said on the Nextdoor app.
Several users of the neighborhood-based mobile app have also reported stolen cars or property theft.
Brooke says thieves may have targeted her and her partner’s vehicle because of the work tools and CPP checks inside. If she had left the keys inside, it could have been worse.
“We’ve seen an increase in just property crimes, mischief to vehicles, where people walk by a car, see something of value inside the vehicle, they pull the door handle and it opens,” Duguay said. “And in turn, when those keys are there, it also increases our vehicle thefts.”
The OPP advises parking in well-lit areas, making sure to take your keys and lock your door. Duguay says even changing the cup holder is a risk.
“Let’s not give these would-be thieves the ability to steal motor vehicles or steal property anymore.”