COLUMBUS, GA (WXTX) - Columbus Police are issuing a warning after a recent spike in car thefts.
Officials say residents are starting their cars in the morning to warm up and thieves are seizing the opportunity, snatching the car when the owner could be just a few feet away inside getting ready for work.
Since January 1, 2011 there have been 108 cars stolen in Columbus. Approximately 40 of those 108 stolen cars were vehicles left with the keys inside and the engines running.
On Valentine's Day 2011 alone, there were six cars stolen in different parts of the city- that makes 10 running cars taken over the past week.
"The best advice is put on a jacket, hat, whatever clothing you need to protect yourself from the cold and be seated in that vehicle. And when you're in your vehicle with your car warming up, it's advisable that your doors are locked. Never leave an unattended vehicle running unsecured where it would be an open invitation for someone to come and take that vehicle," said Major Julius Graham who oversees the Columbus Police Department's Patrol Division.
Detectives think there could be a group working together and looking for exhaust showing on random cars in the morning.
Police say most of the cars have been recovered after the criminals take them for a joy ride and abandon them but anything valuable inside has been stolen.
The crimes are not restricted to one part of the city and we're told the cars are being taken from driveways, parking lots at apartment complexes and streets in front of the victims' homes.
Since the victims are inside when the thefts happen, police say there are no witnesses or suspects.