Car thefts are up 63% in Essex County, say police, who have a warning for residents

·4 min read
Essex County OPP are reporting a 63 per cent increase in vehicle thefts over this time last year. (CBC - image credit)
Essex County OPP are reporting a 63 per cent increase in vehicle thefts over this time last year. (CBC - image credit)

It's an eyebrow-raising statistic: Essex County OPP says there's a 63 per cent increase in vehicle thefts compared to this time last year.

And often, it involves people either leaving their keys or key fobs unattended in their vehicles.

Const. Steven Duguay says organized crime is often tied to vehicle thefts. But outside of that, he says, they're typically "crimes of opportunity."

"You'll have people walking through neighbourhoods at night and checking door handles on cars, looking for loose change, or anybody leaving a wallet, cellphone, or computer," he said.

"Once they're in your vehicle, if the vehicle was left unlocked and the key is in it, they'll take advantage of it at that point. Their purpose wasn't [originally] to steal the vehicle, but now it's become an opportune time."

During the winter, he says, these incidents trend higher because people leave their cars running to warm up the engine.

Duguay says there are various reasons why people are leaving their keys behind in the summer. For some families, it's a matter of convenience.

"We're seeing a trend where you'll have a household with three or four cars, they'll park in the driveway, and someone's got to leave for work in the morning," he said.

"Instead of waking someone up, they just leave the keys accessible — whether it's even in the garage or inside of the vehicle."

Lauren Adams of Lakeshore says her vehicle went missing overnight on July 13 when she mistakenly left her garage door open.

Lauren Adams
Lauren Adams

"I thought [my husband] was joking when he told me my car was gone," she said. "He wasn't. It was really missing from our garage when we woke up.

"I asked him if the garage door was open when he opened the door from the house, and he said it was. I then realized that I had left my purse in the car, with my keys inside, and it is a push-start vehicle. We called the police right away."

Luckily for Adams, the 2019 Hyundai SUV came equipped with a GPS tracking system linked to an app. She and her partner were able to retrieve their vehicle later that evening by locating it on their phones and activating the alarm system, which they believe scared the thieves out of the vehicle.

"There was so much more they could have taken. They also could have entered our home where our eight-month-old baby was sleeping," Adams said. "But no, they just wanted the car."

Adams used her phone to locate her vehicle west of the Ambassador Bridge. Once retrieved by police, it was returned to her later that evening. Adams says although her purse was missing, she was grateful to have her vehicle returned.

Property theft is also on the rise this year, the OPP says, and it's in conjunction with the vehicle theft trend.

"What these criminals are doing is…as an example, a vehicle will be stolen from the city of Windsor, they'll make their way out into the county, they'll commit more crimes, and once they locate another vehicle, they will abandon the vehicle stolen in Windsor and then move on with the new vehicle," Duguay said.

Someone broke into Jesse Brooke's vehicle in Kingsville on July 26, when valuables were left inside.

"We have been here for over 20 years. So sad to see this happening in our neighbourhood," Brooke said on the Nextdoor app.

Multiple users of the neighbourhood-based mobile app have also reported stolen cars or property theft.

Josiah Sinanan/CBC News
Josiah Sinanan/CBC News

Brooke says thieves may have targeted her and her partner's vehicle because of work tools and CPP cheques inside. If she'd left the keys inside, it could have been worse.

"We've seen an increase in property crimes alone, of mischief to vehicles, where people will walk by a car, see something of value inside the vehicle, they'll pull on the door handle and it opens," Duguay said. "And in turn, when those keys are in there, that increases our vehicle thefts as well."

The OPP advises parking in well-lit areas, and making sure you take your keys with you and lock your door. Duguay says even change in the cup holder is a risk.

"Let's not give these would-be thieves any more opportunity to steal motor vehicles or steal property."