CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say thieves are targeting vehicles in Charlotte and owners are apparently helping by leaving cars running and unattended.
According to CMPD, auto thefts are up 31% from the last year so far year-to-date. The department says since January 1, 2018, there have been 238 stolen cars - and 37% of vehicles had keys left in them or were running.
It's not that police haven't warned people before about leaving keys in the ignition of an unattended car, it's just that some people continue to ignore the warnings.
"Offenders learn about an easy target and a running car is an easy target for them. It spreads," said Capt Jonathan Thomas. "People are looking for people who are gassing up, walking from their car, going inside to pay, use the restroom - they jump in the car, they've got a stolen car. The word spreads that's an easy mark among the suspects."
To help highlight the problem of cars left running unattended and auto thefts, police are once again teaming up with QuikTrip Convenience stores.
Next Tuesday morning, drivers can get a free cup of coffee or a drink but they have to do something in return: show police their car keys.
"At several locations from 6:30am to 8:30a show us your keys," Capt Thomas said. "As people get out of their cars, put gas in their cars, come in for morning coffee, if they come up to the store we'll have officers and detectives out – if they show us their keys QuikTrip is providing free drink ticket."
Police say the campaign will once again attempt to do what they've been trying to do time and time again.
"Just to get awareness how smart it is to keep your keys with you to secure your car" Capt Thomas said.
Police released surveillance video of a recent theft at a gas station on Statesville Road. In the video, you can see a woman get out of her car. Moments later a man hops in and drives away.
"Stop leaving your keys in your car," Capt. Thomas said. "People have to realize that one minute it can happen to them. Everybody thinks they're safe. Warming your car up at 4:30 in the morning some people think my car's not going to get stolen. Just for that one minute, I'll leave it in the driveway. We've had the theft at 4:30 in the morning. That's when the criminals are out."
Police say juveniles commit many of the auto thefts.
"They know that with key fobs – people are usually leaving an extra in the vehicle or leaving it running and it's creating this market of stolen cars for us that they're stealing and once again going out and using it to steal more cars, break into homes, commit robberies, any litany of crimes you come up with" Capt Thomas said.