The number of stolen cars has spiked throughout the city so far this year, and owners have no one to blame but themselves, police say.
In January and February, 162 vehicles were stolen, compared with 110 during the same period last year, according to the police department’s uniform crime report. That’s a 47 percent jump.
The numbers continued to climb this month.
Analysts looked for a trend, and they found an unusual one: Most of the victims had left their keys in the ignition.
Of the 248 auto theft cases reported from Jan. 1 through March 25, 161 of the drivers or 65 percent had left their keys in the ignition. In some cases, they left the engine running, too.
“Stop leaving your keys in the car,” said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt. “You’re just making it too easy for these people.”
Car thieves are keeping watch at automated teller machines, day care centers, convenience stores and gas stations.
“People are jumping out of their cars and leaving either the keys in the ignition or the car running,” Proffitt said. “Some of these auto thieves are hanging out at these locations because they know people are doing that.”
The police department is reiterating the obvious to bring the numbers down: People should close all their windows, lock all the doors and take the keys with them. Police also recommend that people never hide a second set of keys in the car because car thieves are familiar with all such hiding places.
Ironically, an unmarked St. Petersburg police car was stolen Monday out of the driveway of a detective’s home in South St. Petersburg. The thief was able to steal the Chevrolet Impala after breaking into the detective’s personal vehicle and finding the keys to the Impala in the center console. Guns and a police radio were stolen out of the trunk, and the car was ditched in Lake Maggiore. Police recovered the guns the following day.
Another bizarre sequence of events was set in motion Sunday after the owner of a 2002 Cadillac Deville left it running at a Chevron gas station at 12:40 a.m., St. Petersburg police said.
A patrol officer was looking for the Cadillac when his squad car was intentionally struck by a Kia, in a collision that prompted a police pursuit, said Proffitt.