Police urge drivers not to leave vehicles running, unattended

'Preventable' car thefts on the rise locally

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

A 26-year-old woman left her gray 2008 Toyota Highlander running in her Vancouver driveway last Thursday morning while she went inside. She hasn't seen it since.

The scenario is something police respond to regularly as the temperature drops.

"It's a very preventable crime," Vancouver Police Department Spokeswoman Kim Kapp said.

Sometimes, car owners report that they go inside for 10 minutes, and so don't know exactly when the car was taken, Kapp said.

"You can make it across town in 10 minutes," she said.

Kapp said that the agency can't discourage car owners enough from leaving their cars running and unattended.

She said the agency doesn't track this specific kind of auto theft, but she said she has already seen a handful of reports in the past few weeks.

"This happens every winter," she said. "A person doesn't need to be away from their vehicle for minutes. It only takes a second for someone to steal an unlocked car that is running."

She adds that even if the car isn't stolen, the act of leaving a running car unattended is illegal.

"Do we cite people for that? Generally not when they have had their car stolen," Kapp said.

Another reason to stay with your car while it's getting warm is that if the car thief were to get into a crash and cause damage — or hurt someone — a jury may potentially find the car owner liable.

Brad Hilliard, spokesman for State Farm in the Pacific Northwest, said that it comes down to what a reasonable and prudent person would consider a risk.

"If you're in a small town, you stop in at a local convenience store and everybody knows everybody, it'd be harder to prove negligence," Hilliard said. "Whereas in Portland or Vancouver, you do the same thing, it could be possible that you're negligent in that case."

Hilliard said these kinds of auto thefts are called "puffers" among criminals because thieves are attracted to the car because of the smoke puffing from the tail pipe.

"It's an instant cue that it's an easy target," he said.

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;emily.gillespie@columbian.com.