The Harford County Sheriff's is increasing its efforts to prevent people from leaving their cars running, unattended and unlocked in an effort to prevent vehicle and related thefts.
During the cold months, people often are tempted to leave cars running when they are making brief stops in stores. The practice increases the risk that a car or items inside will be stolen, and it is illegal.
"We're seeing an increase in motor vehicle tampering," Capt. Jon Krass said at an Edgewood Community Council meeting Wednesday night. "They aren't breaking into cars, but going into ones that are unlocked."
Krass said he urges residents of Edgewood and other areas of the county to lock their car doors.
The Harford Sheriff's Office recently tracked down a thief from a vehicle related robbery thanks to a resident's security camera footage, Krass said. He said his department obtained a warrant and arrested a suspect recovering the missing items and drugs among other things.
As the holiday season approaches, Krass said incidents like these vehicle related robberies increase.
"We're telling people to be cautious during the holiday season," Krass said. "When people can't afford things during Christmas, people will steal them."
Krass said the Sheriff's Office will be beefing up its holiday patrols in the coming days. He said residents will notice more foot patrols at shopping areas and a increase in holiday parking enforcement.
Sgt. Dawn Wolf, supervisor of the Sheriff's Office Property Crimes Unit, said in a press release earlier this week, that the Auto Theft Unit will be conducting targeted enforcement, while patrol deputies will conduct random checks of shopping areas, convenience stores and residential communities looking for vehicles left running and unattended.
"We understand it is convenient for people to leave the engine idling and run into a store for a quick errand or cup of coffee," Wolf said. "But," she continued, "while making it convenient for yourself, you are also making it very convenient for the thief who wants to steal your car."
Wolf said people often assume the car is taken for a joy ride and it will be recovered within a few hours and only a few miles away. That isn't necessarily the case.
"While statistically 52 percent of the stolen vehicles are recovered," she continued. "The reality of the remaining 48 percent that are not recovered is that they most likely have been chopped up and sold for parts.
"It prompts police to ask drivers if the convenience is really worth it," Wolf said.
Wolf said, national auto theft statistics report a car is stolen every 44 seconds in the United States.
In Maryland, which ranks among the top 10 states in the country for auto theft, a vehicle is stolen every 15 minutes.
"According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 50 percent of the vehicles stolen had their keys left in the vehicle," Wolf said.
"Maryland law prohibits drivers from leaving a vehicle unattended until the engine is stopped, the ignition locked and the key removed," Wolf said. Police can issue a traffic citation to any driver found in violation and if found guilty could face a fine of $70 and one-point on their driving record."
Wolf said people should use common sense when leaving their vehicles unattended. She recommends:
• Take your key; don't leave it in or on your vehicle;
• Close and lock all windows and doors when you park;
• Park in well-lit areas; in a garage, if possible;
• Refrain from leaving valuables in your vehicle, and if you do, then place them out of sight.