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Police say auto thefts on the rise in Modesto, but nearly a quarter of them were preventable

Police say in 22 percent of auto thefts last year, the driver either left their keys or fobs in the car or had keys that had been stolen or were unaccounted for.

MODESTO, Calif. — Modesto police are warning people about the rise in car thefts last year, but reporting nearly a quarter of them were preventable.

According to the Modesto Police Department, the city’s auto theft rate has ranked in the top 10 nationally for more than a decade. But it turns out, in 22 percent of auto thefts last year, the driver either left their keys or fobs in the car, or they had keys that had been stolen or were unaccounted for.

Most incidents, according to Sergeant Kolani Souza, happened while people were warming up their vehicles and left them unattended. In fact, most of the thefts in the city generally happen when people are warming up cars in their driveway on cold mornings.

For one morning last month, Modesto Police Officers found 27 unattended idling vehicles, Souza said. Souza said he understands why this is happening, “since we are just so used to having our keys on us that by the time we realize they are gone, we go back and look for them and our vehicles are already missing."

The area of most concern is Yosemite Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, a residential area near a shopping plaza. The department is now urging people to avoid storing or leaving keys and fobs in vehicles and to be watchful in parking lots where keys can be dropped or stolen.

Souza says the top five stolen vehicles are, older model Honda Civics and Accords, Ford and Chevrolet pickups, and the Toyota Camry.

Because of the high auto theft rate, the department has launched an education campaign on social media with the goal of changing people’s behavior. “We have also had brochures and information printed up which have been handed out in various ares in Modesto, specifically targeting the areas experiencing the most reported stolen vehicle thefts,” Souza said.

Patrol officers are also speaking about the issue at neighborhood watch meetings and during school presentations. In addition to proactive measures, the department is also continuously looking for car thieves, doing probation checks on reported car thieves that are out of jail.

“We also feel that by bringing awareness to our community, we can reduce the 22 percent,” Souza explained.

Here is how you can keep thieves from driving away with your ride:

  • Stow your valuables within the trunk
  • Don’t leave your key fob in the car
  • Park close to the building
  • Park in a well-lit area
  • If you see something, say something.

Police also wants to remind drivers that leaving your keys in the ignition with the engine on is a violation of the Modesto municipal code. Drivers who violate the code can be fined and a police officer has the authority to remove the key from the vehicle and hold it at the police department.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, California ranked first among the states for vehicle thefts with keys between 2016 and 2018. Nationally, Monday is the top day for stolen vehicles, Souza said.

Click here for more information or if you want to file a report.

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