Big jump in car thefts thanks to unlocked doors, SL police say

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SALT LAKE CITY — Police say many Salt Lake residents are giving their cars away for free, whether they intend to or not.

Officers issued a warning Tuesday in light of a dramatic recent increase in vehicle thefts. An average of 10 cars a day are being stolen in the city, said Salt Lake Sgt. Robin Heiden. And on average, about one of those is due to someone leaving their keys in the vehicle.

"(Investigators) even talked to thieves who say they'll go around and just try the doors and every fifth car or so is open or easy to steal," she said. "It's like giving them away."

Police typically warn residents about leaving cars unattended while they're warming up in the driveway during the winter. Heiden said the problems police are seeing now are car owners leaving their vehicles running as they run into a convenience store, or drivers with a false sense of security leaving keys in the ignitions of cars they park in their garages.

Since the start of the year, approximately 1,500 cars have been reported stolen in Salt Lake City, she said. The city averages about 3,300 stolen cars a year.

Hondas remain the most popular car to steal in the city, she said. But, as opposed to years past when street racers would steal them for parts, the majority of cars being stolen today are by people who just want to drive them for a few days, she said.

(Investigators) even talked to thieves who say they'll go around and just try the doors and every fifth car or so is open or easy to steal. It's like giving them away.

–Salt Lake Sgt. Robin Heiden

"It's more of getting from point A to point B," Heiden said. "They're using the car just to get around. So they'll drive for one or two days and then figure, 'My luck is up,' so now I'm going to steal another one and drive that for a couple of days."

Approximately 85 percent to 90 percent of cars reported stolen in Salt Lake City are found abandoned after a couple of days, Heiden said. And typically, there is another car that is reported stolen in the same area where the last stolen car is recovered.

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