When you’re not using your vehicle, lock it up – and take your keys with you. That’s the message the Durango Police Department is trying to send. Vehicle thefts have been trending upward since 2019, said Durango Police Chief Bob Brammer.
There were 36 recorded vehicle thefts in 2019, he said. In 2020, 54 motor vehicle thefts occurred. There were 43 in 2021.
“State crime levels have increased for the last couple of years,” he said. “It’s not just isolated to Durango.”
Across Colorado, motor vehicle thefts rose from 22,321 to 30,942 – or 38.62% – from 2019 to 2020.
In the first four days of March, Brammer said there have already been three reported stolen vehicles in Durango. One was a budget rental truck that wasn’t returned as expected. The truck was found Thursday night and an arrest was made, he said.
Another two vehicles were stolen from residents living in town. In each case, keys were left inside the vehicles, which were also left unlocked.
Brammer said 85% to 90% of the 43 vehicles stolen in 2021 involved vehicles that were left unlocked with keys in the car. The police chief said his numbers were approximations, because not many people admit to leaving keys in the vehicle.
“We’re finding the cars recovered with the keys in them, so we can make that assumption,” he said.
Brammer said it’s up to individual community members to take proactive steps to safeguard their own personal property.
Motor vehicle thefts – and theft of items from motor vehicles – are often crimes of opportunity, at least in Durango, he said.
People strolling the streets will shake car handles to see if vehicles are unlocked, he said. If they find easy success in entering the vehicle, they might also find spare change or money, purses and even bicycles, in addition to other valuables that are easy pickings for an opportunistic thief.
“I guarantee that if everybody in this community did their part, we could cut our crime, such as motor vehicle theft, probably in half,” Brammer said.
He said the majority of cars stolen in Durango are recovered. The stolen vehicles are often being taken for joy rides or being commandeered for use in other criminal activities, such as narcotics dealings or other low-level offenses.
He said based on discussions with other police chiefs in the Denver metro area, Durango has it pretty easy all things considered when it comes to car break-ins and thefts.
In and around the state’s capital, police are seeing vehicle break-ins, the use of slim jim car door openers and even cases of hot-wired vehicles where the thieves are stripping the stolen vehicles of their parts or selling them whole.
Brammer said the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased levels of crime across categories.
He said there is a lot of retrospection needed to determine the factors brought about by the pandemic.
Masks and the increased anonymity they grant resulted in more brazen petty thefts, he said. He offered an example where people would walk into a convenience store, masked up with their face concealed, pick out a 12-pack of beer and walk out without paying.
“We don’t know who they are, we can’t identify them,” Brammer said.
But COVID-19’s real kicker is the social unrest that it caused across the nation, he said.
“It created a lot of social unrest everywhere in the country that pissed people off, essentially,” he said. “With that, people started committing crime.”
The pandemic also resulted in reduced jail and prison populations because of the threat of disease spread.
He said people were going through the citation, arrest and jailing process faster than police could file their paperwork.
“We were never able to hold people accountable,” he said.