Car-less victims: Most auto theft victims leave keys in unlocked car

By Matthew Boyle |
Photo by Matthew Boyle

Flagler student JD Bray could have prevented his car from getting stolen with the simple click of lock, but he shouldn’t feel that bad. He’s not alone.

“In three-fourths of auto thefts, individuals are leaving keys in the car,” St. Augustine Police Department Administrative Services Commander Stephen Fricke said. In most cases, he said car thieves don’t even break windows or hotwire the car. They just open an unlocked door and find keys the owner left inside.

Bray’s Ford Explorer was missing when he woke up on Sept. 24 because he left a spare key in the middle console and the door unlocked. He reported it stolen and, finally, got it back on Sept. 30.

“I’ve always grown up leaving my stuff unlocked,” Bray said. “Usually, if you’re honest, you would assume people would return the favor.”

Fricke said overall crime in St. Augustine is down despite tough times but the numbers could be lower if citizens paid more attention to securing themselves and their property.

Fricke said the number of auto theft offenses, though, is average for the first half of this year. The SAPD handles about 40 auto thefts per year, he said, and according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement Uniform Crime Reports, the SAPD reported 23 auto thefts for the first half of 2009.

“They [citizens are] not taking minimum prudent steps to protect the vehicle,” Fricke said. “Citizens have a false sense of security and fail to lock their cars up.”

Looking back, Bray wishes he had locked his car. “The situation was more frustrating than anything,” he said. “It’s just something that you don’t want to deal with.”

Fricke said a few small precautions go a long way.

“Take the keys with you and lock the car,” Fricke said. “Keep valuable items out of plain sight. The only thing separating someone from your valuable items is a thin sheet of glass.”

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