By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — During these cold, frigid days, police in Minneapolis and St. Paul want people to be mindful of leaving their cars running unattended.

Twice this past weekend, someone stole a vehicle with a child inside.

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In Minneapolis about 450 vehicles have been stolen so far this year; 75% of those were vehicles left running while unattended.

“People stealing the cars aren’t taking a lot of time to look inside. They are getting in and going,” said Minneapolis police spokesman John Elder.

It can happen when someone runs into a store to pay, but residential neighborhoods like East Phillips, Northrop and Bancroft, and Marcy Holmes have been hit hardest.

On Saturday in North Minneapolis, a woman buckled her 1-year-old son in her Jeep then ran back in the house to get something she forgot. When she came back out, both the boy and vehicle were gone. They found her son and her Jeep two hours later in Brooklyn Center.

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“Make sure you are sitting in your vehicle, even with the doors locked, while it’s warming up. It’s not as comfortable, we certainly understand that, but far more comfortable than going out and finding that your car has been stolen,” Elder said.

It’s a similar story in St. Paul. Auto thefts were up nearly 15% last year. From January 2020 to January 2021, they were up 7%.

Sgt. Mike Ernster of St. Paul Police says the upward trend is a crime of opportunity.

“We are looking and we are out there trying to educate people. ‘Hey, your car is running it could easily be taken.’ It does not take very long for someone to see it, jump in, and take off,” said Ernster.

Forty-nine percent of the cars stolen in St. Paul in January were left running and unattended. On Sunday evening a woman left her 6-year-old boy in the car while she ran into a Walgreen’s. When she came out, they were gone. Police found the boy standing outside the stolen vehicle a few blocks away.

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“It’s hard to imagine what that mother was feeling at that time and it’s also very hard to imagine what that child was feeling at that time. I’m sure there are many emotions going through that child’s mind,” said Ernster.

John Lauritsen