‘Rash of car thefts’ connected to additional crime, cold weather

Police warn against leaving car running unattended

MADISON, Wis. – The freezing cold weather makes it tempting to let the car warm up outside, even for a few minutes, but police are warning against that, saying it could result in more than just the car being stolen.

“We’ve seen a rash of car thefts recently,” Madison Police Department Public Information Officer Tyler Grigg said.  “They’re being used, then being abandoned. They’re being used for the commission of crimes.”

He said by the time owners notice their cars are gone, it’s often too late to see who took them. On Sunday alone, eight cars were stolen in Madison.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a single day with that many stolen autos in our city,” Grigg said, adding that the cold is driving up the numbers as cars are taken from driveways and garages, with some ending up a part of violent crimes.

“Two of those stolen vehicles were associated with robberies here in Madison: one of an 86-year-old woman on Sunday who was in the store parking lot who had her purse stolen, and then another on Monday, a similar incident on the east side of Madison in a store parking lot. A 62-year-old woman was knocked down and her purse was stolen.”

In another incident, Grigg said the driver of a stolen vehicle hit a victim before the occupants left the crash.

“We’re seeing definitely an increase in the stolen vehicles being used in the commission of other crimes,” he said. “We’re out there day in and day out trying to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.”

On Tuesday, the department honed in on the thefts and associated crimes, doing follow-up investigations and upping patrol in neighborhoods and store parking lots. In a video message to the community, Chief Shon Barnes said that those eight hours resulted in three recovered autos, five criminal arrests and four guns taken off the streets.

“This criminal behavior is unacceptable,” Barnes said in the address, adding that the department will continue such efforts as necessary. “Crime prevention is a joint effort.”

Police said the key to that is not leaving a car running unattended and unlocked, even for a few minutes. Of the 639 vehicles reported stolen to MPD last year, 345 of them had keys readily accessible and 115 were running at the time.

“If we’re able to get remote start, that’s definitely a way to go, or if you have extra keys available,” Grigg said, suggesting that people also look out for neighbors who leave their cars vulnerable. “It’s cold out there, so we need to do our best to make sure we don’t have these crimes of opportunity. It’s up to each of us to look out for each other.”

The 639 autos stolen in Madison in 2020 show a 46.9% increase from 2019, according to police. In the past, police have connected stolen cars with groups of teenagers, but weren’t able to say Wednesday if there’s a connection with the recent string of thefts.