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Operation Cold Start aims to prevent vehicle thefts

Campaign runs provincewide Jan. 23-27

WESTLOCK – Operation Cold Start, a provincewide RCMP initiative aimed at making it tougher on car thieves by reducing the number of unattended idling vehicles, returns Jan. 23-27.

The first-year program rolled out Jan. 31 to Feb. 6, 2022, and was deemed a success in Westlock, as officers had 68 interactions with residents and found 17 unlocked vehicles idling with keys in the ignition, while 11 were locked and left idling with keys in the ignition and more than half were using command-start systems. In instances where officers came across unattended idling vehicles, the owners were spoken to about the risk.

According to a past RCMP news release, Alberta has the highest per-capita auto theft rate in the country and note that half of the vehicles that are stolen have been left running and 50 per cent of those had the keys left inside — the situation is far more prevalent in the winter as thieves prey on people who start their vehicles, then leave them unattended as they return into their home or a store.

As an aside, Brooks RCMP reported in a provincewide news release that on Jan. 17, a vehicle owner briefly left his vehicle to warm up, and upon returning, noticed a man inside. The owner attempted to stop the suspect, who accelerated and drove away and inflicted minor injuries on the owner — as of Jan. 17, the suspect remained at large.

Westlock RCMP Cpl. Riley Sutherland agreed that “no one likes being cold” behind the wheel of their vehicle before it has warmed up, but noted following the cold snap in late December, there was a bevy of vehicle thefts reported not only in Westlock, but in the Barrhead and Redwater areas. In 2021, Westlock RCMP dealt with 34 vehicle thefts, which was down by two over the previous year.

“When people see an opportunity, they take it. It happens no matter the temperature outside, but we probably see more when it’s slightly warmer because there’s more foot traffic from people looking to steal vehicles, compared to when it’s -30 or -40 … then, it’s generally thieves operating in a vehicle who go around on the prowl,” said Sutherland. “But it even happens when it’s really hot in the summer as people turn on their cars to get the air conditioning going.”

Aside from installing a command-start system and to never leave the keys inside an idling unattended vehicle, police also recommend using a steering wheel locking device and to remove all valuables like purses, wallets, keys, or change. They also recommend keeping the keys to your vehicles out of plain sight in a safe and secure place in your home and to always take your garage door remote control with you. It also goes without saying that children and pets should never be left in an unattended, running vehicle no matter the time of year.

“Even if the vehicle is locked, but the keys are in it, it takes under a minute for someone to get in and drive away,” Sutherland added.

George Blais

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