WOODBURY, Minn. (WCCO) — Police in the east metro recovered four stolen cars over the weekend with teenagers as suspects in the cases, officials say.

Law enforcement is urging public to take precautions since the crimes are often due to an opportune moment for theft.

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John Altman, police commander with Woodbury Public Safety, asks that residents take extra, simple steps for safety, like locking cars and not running them with keys still inside.

“In most of these cases, we do see that these are crimes of opportunity,” Altman said. “You really have to pay attention to your surroundings. If you’re in your car and you’re stationary in a parking lot, again, be aware of what’s around you. That’s unfortunately not a person’s safe bubble anymore.”

In Woodbury, there’s been an uptick in car thefts since late summer of last year, data provided by the department shows.

This comes as a recent rise in car thefts and carjackings is rocking the Twin Cities, with these crimes spilling into the suburbs. A coalition of local leaders and police chiefs is working together to stop it.

“We’ve been trying to take extra precautions,” said Roger Ecklund, who lives in Cottage Grove.

He noted that his wife has changed her grocery shopping habits in wake of the surge in thefts.

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“We try to stay in at night a lot more,” Ecklund said.

Stolen SUV tracked down by law enforcement in Woodbury (credit: MnDOT)

Over the weekend, Woodbury police and other agencies tracked down four stolen cars, and they’re urging the public to stay aware — and say something if they see something.

In one instance on Saturday, someone phoned in a tip. Law enforcement says that information can be helpful when pursuing a stolen vehicle.

“We’ve had great luck with our community,” Altman said. “Whether it’s sharing information after the fact, so perhaps they hear about a crime that happened in their neighborhood and they’re willing to share home surveillance video. But really what it comes down to [is] people being willing to call us when they see something that seems out of place or seems amiss.”

Altman said Woodbury Public Safety has allocated more resources in response, including more marked cars having a presence in shopping areas and undercover cars to track down stolen cars. The agency also works with surrounding jurisdictions.

But the suspects are getting “younger and younger,” ranging in age from 13 to 17 years old, Altman said, citing a balance of public safety needs and those of the individuals involved when pursuing vehicles.

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“They don’t have the physical ability, the mental know-how, the ability to know, to understand what could potentially go wrong when driving a car, much less driving the cars recklessly as they are,” he said. “At the end of the day, you know, we’re not necessarily gonna chase every stolen car because we don’t want anybody to get hurt.”

Caroline Cummings