Keys left in cars behind spike in vehicle thefts in Edmonton, police say

Edmonton police and the insurance industry are pointing the finger at drivers for a 41 per cent spike in vehicle thefts in 2016.

Vehicle thefts in Edmonton rose 41 per cent increase from 2015 to 2016

Edmonton police released this video to bring attention to the increase of vehicle thefts in the city and how to prevent them. 1:53

Edmonton police and the insurance industry are pointing the finger at drivers for a spike in vehicle thefts.

Last year, vehicle thefts jumped by 41 per cent over 2015, and most of those vehicles were stolen with the keys still in them, police say.

"It may seem obvious, but the majority of vehicles that are stolen have keys inside, are left unlocked or left running," Det. Dwayne Karpo of the EPS auto theft unit said in a news release Thursday.

In 2016, thieves drove away in 4,865 stolen vehicles across the city, compared to 3,453 the year before.

The trend seems to be continuing this year, with 1,260 thefts from January through April, similar to the 1,267 stolen during the same time period last year, police said.

Witnesses told police this stolen car was speeding before it veered off the road into the unoccupied bus shelter near Abbottsfield Road and 118th Avenue on March 25. Police arrested a man shortly after. (Edmonton Police Service)

The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates 60 per cent of the stolen vehicles had the keys inside.

The Edmonton Police Service announced Thursday it is joining the RCMP and the Insurance bureau in launching a social media education campaign to urge drivers to lock their vehicles and take their keys with them.

Karpo said stolen vehicles drain police resources and are a threat to public safety.

"Thieves don't care how they drive," he said. "They break traffic laws and cause collisions, damaging property and endangering officers and the public.

"The car can become a weapon very easily. It just depends on the group who stole the car, or the individual."

Vehicles that were stolen and trashed in the Edmonton area were on display next to the city's vehicle impound lot on Thursday. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Stolen vehicles are often used in other crimes, such as drug trafficking, break and enters, robberies and hit and runs, he said.

One popular trend is cloning, where vehicles are driven to Canada's coasts and loaded onto shipping containers. Some Edmonton vehicles have been spotted in Africa.

"The vehicle is stolen," Karpo said. "The VIN is replaced with another VIN, same make, same model. Those vehicles can end up overseas, which we've seen. They're sold. It's very quick turnaround. It's very profitable."