On Vancouver Island in 2013

Slew of thefts from unlocked vehicles puts local RCMP on edge

Owners could face fines if they continue leaving their vehicles unlocked, police say.

A recent slew of thefts from unlocked vehicles in Sooke left residents and police alike on the edge, raising the question: s Sooke becoming a new target for thieves?

No, but complacency with residents leaving valuables in their vehicles does add to the problem, said Sooke RCMP Staff Sgt. Jeff McArthur.

“It’s not just Sooke, it’s everywhere, and people are used to leaving things in their vehicles,” he said. “They get away with it for years, until it happens, and when it happens once, people don’t do it again.”

McArthur said the reason for having more thefts is a result of who’s out and about on the street, as theft appears to be the crime of choice for cocaine and methamphetamine addicts.

“If there’s a few around at the same time, then we experience an increase.”

McArthur said the thefts have curtailed in the past couple of weeks, but its sudden and rapid occurrence still remains a concern for police.

In one night, there were six thefts from unlocked vehicles throughout Sooke. One vehicle even had its keys still left in the ignition.

All this happening simultaneously meant all the detachment’s support staff and investigators were occupied documenting each individual case.

“It’s time consuming. If people would lock their cars, it would free us up to do more proactive community policing and to work on some of the more involved investigations that we have here,” McArthur said, adding that owners are required by law to secure their vehicles.

Failing to secure your vehicle can result in a fine under the Motor Vehicle Act.

“It’s not a fine we regularly use or we’ve used here in Sooke, but we can probably consider it for circumstances where people leave their keys in their vehicle, and their vehicle gets stolen,” McArthur said.

In most cases, McArthur said theft from vehicles is a crime of opportunity, not a result of organized criminal activity. There’s no specific time when this happens either, though majority of incidents happen past midnight, or during the early hours of the morning.

“Some criminals just won’t break the glass, some of them will just go up and down a road and look for those [cars] that are unlocked, and if there aren’t many unlocked, then they’ll go somewhere else, maybe even leave town.”

What it really comes down to is prevention, such as locking your vehicle and removing everything remotely valuable from your vehicle, noted McArthur.

“Something as small as loose change is enough to get them to go into your car, sometimes even break the window to see if they can find anything else.”

Leaving your car under a light or in a driveway or locked car garage helps too, including locking the trunk release button manually, which can be done through a valet key that comes with every vehicle.

Still, it starts with locking the vehicle first.

“The message is to always lock your doors and close your windows, even if you’re away from your vehicle for just a minute,” said Sam Corea, an ICBC spokesperson.

Corea said auto crime was decreasing for years, but went up again in 2014, staying up well across the province.

“You can’t let your guard down. There were improvements made, but it’s (auto theft) starting to creep up a bit.”

In 2015, there were 15,000 vehicles stolen and 51,000 vehicles broken into B.C. wide. That’s 40 vehicles a day being stolen and 140 vehicles getting broken into every day.

On Vancouver Island in 2013, there were 5,202 incidents of property stolen from vehicles. In 2014, there was an increase to 5,801, until it went down to 5,447 in 2015.

Theft of vehicles of all types in 2013 was 845, while in 2014, there was a jump to 1,161, it’s still up a bit in 2015, with 1,246.

Claims costs on average in 2013 for a stolen vehicle is around $4,600. The break-in is $1,000.

While auto theft can’t be stopped, both law enforcement authorities and insurance providers agree: “prevention comes first.”