The Anoka County Auto Theft Task Force is warning motorists not to leave their vehicles unattended with the engine running.
“We have been getting hit hard on auto thefts where citizens are leaving their keys in their cars while the engine is running at places like gas stations and day cares,” said Detective Chad Duckson, Coon Rapids Police Department.
Duckson is point person for the task force, since the city of Coon Rapids is currently administering the Minnesota Department of Commerce grant that funds the task force, he said.
Different agencies in the county take turns administering the grant program, Duckson said.
According to the task force, since Jan. 1, 2016, there have been 144 reports to Anoka County law enforcement agencies of vehicles being stolen with the keys left inside them.
“Keys left in cars which are then stolen has been an ongoing problem, but it spikes during the winter months when people tend to leave their cars running more and unattended,” Duckson said.
Other high-target areas for vehicle thefts are residential driveways and apartment parking lots when vehicles are left running to warm up or owners simply just leave their keys in the vehicle, according to the task force.
Countywide, since Jan. 1, 2016, there have been 69 reported thefts of vehicles from residential driveways and 47 from apartment parking lots, according to Duckson.
Of those stolen vehicles, 84 percent have been recovered, Duckson said.
Duckson reminds motorists that most cities, including Coon Rapids, have an ordinance that makes it illegal to leave keys in an unattended vehicle.
The advice from the task force is to “lock your car, take your keys, remove your valuables.”
The Minnesota Department of Commerce auto theft prevention program grant is awarded to the Anoka County Joint Law Enforcement Council.
“The Anoka County Auto Theft Task Force has been operational for roughly 10 years,” Duckson said.
The Minnesota Legislature created the auto theft prevention grant program in 1996, funding it through a surcharge – 50 cents per vehicle for every six months of coverage – collected from automobile insurance carriers that provide comprehensive insurance coverage issued by the state, according to the commerce department website.
In July 2004, administration of the auto theft prevention program was transferred to the state commerce department, whose fraud bureau has managed the program since 2009.
The grant program provides money for local projects that help law enforcement identify issues associated with auto theft, investigation and prosecution of auto theft suspects, collaboration between law enforcement agencies to reduce auto theft and prevention of auto theft resulting in lower auto insurance premiums, the website states.
The Anoka County Law Enforcement Council was created in 1970 as a collaboration between law enforcement agencies in the county to deal with law enforcement issues impacting Anoka County.
Its membership comprises the Anoka County Attorney, Anoka County Sheriff, chiefs of police departments in the county, two Anoka County Board members, an elected officials from each city in the county with its own police department and two elected officials from the eight cities in the county under contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services.