Driver complacency is driving up the auto theft rate in Modesto, according to police.
With the city’s auto theft rate ranking in the top 10 nationally for more than a decade, including the No. 1 spot several times, the Modesto Police Department looked at the causes of the crime and found that nearly a quarter of them were preventable.
Crime analysis found that in 22 percent of auto thefts in 2018 the driver either left their keys or fobs in the vehicle or had keys that had been stolen or otherwise were unaccounted for.
This is a trend that is being seen nationwide. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, from 2013 to 2018 there has been an 88 percent increase in auto thefts because drivers left their keys or fobs in the vehicle.
Most of these type of thefts happen in the winter and fall when people are warming up vehicles in their driveway on cold mornings, according to the bureau.
During one morning in early March, Modesto patrol officers found 27 unattended idling vehicles, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Sharon Bear.
Officers used the opportunity to educate drivers about the risks and that leaving your keys in the ignition with the engine on is actually a violation of the Modesto municipal code.
Those in violation can be fined and a police officer has the authority to remove the key from the vehicle and hold it at the police department.
Bear said the department is not resorting to that but instead has launched an education campaign with the goal of changing people’s behavior.
Bear said they have posted fliers and posters around schools and businesses throughout the community and are utilizing traffic signs to help spread the message.
Patrol officers and support staff are speaking about the issue during presentations at schools, neighborhood watch meetings and other community presentations.
The department is urging people to not only avoid storing or leaving keys and fobs in vehicles but also to be vigilant in parking lots where keys can be dropped or stolen from purses and to avoid leaving keys out in your home when you or a roommate has guests over.
On average, 88.3 percent of vehicle stolen in Modesto are recovered
The majority of auto thefts in Modesto are committed by white men between 25-37. They are primarily Modesto residents.
The top five stolen vehicles are, in this order, older model Honda civics and Accords, Ford pickup, Chevrolet pickups, Toyota Camry.
California ranked first among the states for vehicle thefts with keys between 2016 and 2018, with a total of 31,185 vehicles stolen in this manner, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Nationally, Monday is the top day for stolen vehicles. Friday ranked second and Saturday third, according to the bureau.