With people staying home to lessen the spread of COVID-19, their sedans, pickup trucks and SUVs are parked unattended, making them easy targets for opportunistic thieves, the Associated Press reports. Despite silent streets and nearly nonexistent traffic, vehicle larcenies shot up 63 percent in New York and nearly 17 percent in Los Angeles from Jan. 1 through mid-May, compared with last year. Many other law enforcement agencies around the U.S. are reporting an increase in stolen cars and vehicle burglaries, even as violent crime has dropped dramatically nationwide in the coronavirus pandemic. It’s a low-risk crime with a potentially high reward, especially when drivers leave doors unlocked or keys inside. “You might as well put a sticker on the window that says ‘come take my stuff,’” said a Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
In Austin, Tx., last month, 72 percent of the 322 stolen vehicles had their keys nearby. The total number of auto thefts in April spiked about 50 percent from April 2019. The virus has created a “perfect storm,” said Austin police Sgt. Chris Vetrano. Drivers are at home and not using or checking their cars regularly. School’s out, so teenagers are trying their luck. Criminals are out of work and have time on their hands or need fast money to support a drug habit. Salt Lake City police Detective Greg Wilking said a 22 percent spike in vehicle burglaries there could be from a few criminals working on “car prowls.” He said, “It’s really 10 seconds. They’re not spending a lot of time in your car. It’s a smash-and-grab-and-go,” sometimes in broad daylight. In Baltimore, though, a push to reduce the city’s historically high numbers of vehicle thefts and burglaries appears to have paid off. Thefts from autos plunged 24 percent and stolen vehicles dropped 19 percent from January to May compared with last year.