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With stolen cars on the rise, Niles police urge drivers to lock vehicles

NILES — With car thefts on the rise, Niles law enforcement officials are urging residents to take precautions against the crime.

Niles Police Department Captain Kevin Kosten reported in the city’s December newsletter that there had been 44 vehicle thefts in the city of Niles alone this year.

Tuesday, Kosten said the number had increased since the original writing of the statistic.

“We’ve had several [vehicle thefts] since then,” Kosten said. “Which is pretty high for us.”

The vehicle theft rate was an increase from 2019, according to Kosten.

He said one the consistent threads in the vehicle thefts was that vehicles had been left with ignition keys left inside.

“It’s hard for [police officers] to understand why people would leave keys in a car,” Kosten said. “Very rarely do we have a different situation than that.”

Kosten said much of the reasoning behind why someone might leave their keys in their car is usually how safe a person feels in their neighborhood.

However, he said much of the time, it is not a neighbor stealing a vehicle. Instead, he said car theft is often a crime of opportunity.

“It’s people passing through, that don’t live there or guests that are visiting,” Kosten said. “It’s not like the movies. It is rarely someone breaking in and hotwiring a car. If it is unlocked, they will look through your car. If your keys are there, they will find them.”

Despite the increase in car thefts in 2020, Kosten said he does not believe Niles to be a dangerous city. Instead, he said it is a busy city that results in a high number of calls requiring officer response.

After a vehicle is reported stolen, Kosten said many are eventually recovered.

He has seen them recovered within city limits, and as far away as Florida.

“When a car is stolen, we enter the vehicle’s information — license plate, vehicle identification number and description of the car ­— into a nationwide law enforcement database,” Kosten said. “If any police officer were to run the VIN or plate number, they would call the Niles Police Department and confirm the vehicle.”

Vehicles are recovered in varying states. Sometimes they are recovered with no damage at all, and other times, they are recovered because a crash was reported.

Kosten said the best course of action was prevention. Bringing car keys inside and locking the vehicle was the biggest step in vehicle theft prevention he gave for the Niles area.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also advised vehicle owners to park in well-lit areas, to not leave valuables visible in the vehicle and to not leave a running vehicle alone.

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