Auto theft is about to heat up in Manteca.
Police Chief Nick Obligacion isn’t a psychic.
He’s a law enforcement officer with nearly three decades of experience.
And that experience along with statistics show car thefts spike when the temperature drops.
Despite people being repeatedly warned, when the weather turns cold they still go out to their driveway, turn the ignition on in their car, flip on the heater, and go back inside their house for a few minutes.
They essentially are letting criminals know they’ve got a chance to quickly steal a car without having to worry about hot wiring the ignition. Either all they have to do is jump in and put it in gear or quickly break a window first.
On Monday, Manteca Police officers successfully arrested a suspect who was driving a car that had the keys in the ignition and engine running that was stolen from in front of a Manteca home on Wednesday. Obligacion noted officers were about to drop the chase out of concern for public safety when the suspect pulled over and surrendered.
Auto theft is creeping up again in Manteca. There were 276 vehicles stolen so far this year as of Oct. 31. That’s 10 or 3.76 percent more that at the same point in 2013.
While Obligacion doesn’t have an exact percentage of auto thefts this year where the owner basically made it easy and quick for a criminal to steal, when Manteca’s auto theft reached an historic high of 798 stolen in 2004 one out of every five thefts involved cars with keys left in the ignition or engine running while left unattended.
“New cars don’t need to be warmed up,” Obligacion said of the engines. “This is happening because people don’t want to get into a car that has a cold interior.”
Illustrating how some people never heed warnings was an incident relied by Gary Hampton, who is now police chief in Tracy, when he served in the same position in Oakdale.
His officers had taken a report of a man who had gone outside of his home to warm up his truck so the interior wouldn’t be cold and went back inside for a cup of coffee. The pickup was stolen. After police took the report and left, he took the keys to his wife’s car and turned on its ignition while going back inside for his cup of coffee. That car was stolen as well.
Obligacion can relate how a fleeing auto theft suspect can be a danger to the public and officers as well.
Shortly after starting work with Manteca Police, Obligacion was one of the officers responding to a call of a vehicle that had been stolen after its owner put keys in the ignition to warm it up and went back inside.
It triggered a wild chase that ended with the suspect smashing a police car and then trying to run over Obligacion as he tried to apprehend them.
“When your vehicle is not in use, remove your keys from the ignition, roll up the windows, and lock your vehicle,” Obligacion said. “By working together, we can continue to reduce auto theft.”