MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis police say about 13 cars were stolen each day two weeks ago.

Since then, that number has been as high as 17 per day.

Police say auto theft is actually a tough crime for officers to spot. If a thief casually slides into a car that’s already running, officers have no way of knowing it’s stolen — until the owner realizes it’s gone.

Leaving keys in a running car is a winter sin most Minnesota drivers have committed. Jaime Robles will never make that mistake again after his car was stolen a few years back in Minneapolis.

“Never think it was gonna just be my car, then I wake up the next day … and I’m looking for my car, and it was gone,” Robles said.

In 2019, there were 254 auto thefts year to date. This year, there are already 430. Thefts are up 69%.

(credit: CBS)

Officer Garrett Parten says the department has been trying to raise awareness, but the problem persists, and its mostly preventable. In 73% of cases, thieves choose cars with keys in the ignition or in the car. Officers showed WCCO video from past thefts where officers left keys inside bait cars, and person after person took that bait.

“In about 10 to 15 seconds, somebody can get in your car and drive away,” Parten said. “And if you’re only in the house or come back five minutes later, they can be almost out of the city by that time.”

He says the key to prevention is in drivers’ hands.

“Just that extra effort to take the keys out and go with you is almost nothing compared to the effort it’s going to take to get your vehicle back,” he said.

Ninety-percent of stolen cars are eventually recovered, but that too comes at a cost. Theft victims have to pay for the impound, plus a fee for each day it’s there.

St. Paul says it’s seeing a steady number in their thefts, but officials say most of those cases are because people left their cars running.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield