Idling blamed for cold weather auto thefts

CREATED Jan 6, 2014 - UPDATED: Jan 7, 2014

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MILWAUKEE – Police are warning us not to warm up our cars and leave them unattended in this frigid weather.


Shawn Goebel is on his second rental car this week.  This first was stolen from a hotel parking lot in Madison.

“Went back in my room to go get my office keys.  I went back out and noticed my car was gone,” Goebel told TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray.  “My reaction was, where is my car?”

Police recovered Goebel’s stolen rental car on Monday.  An officer spotted the vehicle in Waunakee and gave chase.  After a crash, two suspects fled and were arrested a short time later.

In Milwaukee, temperatures are down and car thefts are up.  Milwaukee Police Department Community Liaison Officer Lisa Saffold showed TODAY’S TMJ4 a map of auto thefts just this week.  

“Out of 22 auto thefts, 11 of those have been taken with the keys left in the ignition,” Saffold said.

In a quick drive around the city, TODAY’S TMJ4 found cars with engines running, left alone.   Police can write you a $22 municipal citation for leaving your car idling car unattended in the street, but those citations are rare.  The real risk is losing your car.

“I would recommend leaving your child in the house and then going out with your car for 10 minutes,” Saffold said.  “Or, see if somebody can watch your child while you’re starting your vehicle.”

Police say it’s a bad idea to start the car with a second set of keys, lock the doors and go back inside.  Thieves will often smash the windows.