ORLANDO, Fla. – Nearly 39,000 vehicles were stolen in Florida in 2019, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. New numbers show thefts went way up in 2020.
While most people were quarantining, crooks were stealing more vehicles.
Jennifer Bailey’s gray Kia Forte was stolen during the pandemic.
Bailey said her friend was driving the car, left it running while she ran into a business, and it was stolen in seconds.
“I was in shock I was like, ‘What are you talking about my car got stolen,” Bailey told News 6.
Bailey said this was the first time her car was ever stolen.
It happened at the end of April in 2020, almost two months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Car thefts increased statewide by nearly 1,000 vehicles in the first six months of 2020 compared to the year before, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Sgt. Ann Mislange with the Orlando Police Department said they aren’t certain what contributed to the increase, but they have a suspicion.
“The fact that unemployment rates right now with the pandemic are a little bit higher and it’s causing people to do desperate things that maybe they wouldn’t normally do,” Mislange told News 6.
While numbers specific to Florida aren’t available for the second half of 2020, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reports it will likely get worse.
Preliminary numbers show auto thefts increased nationally by double digits in the last six months of 2020, according to NICB.
They believe it will be the same for Florida.
Mark Friedlander works with the Insurance Information Institute.
“It’s really simple,” Friedlander said. “The pandemic is clearly a significant factor in why we saw an over 9% increase in auto thefts in 2020,” he said.
Friedlander believes thieves are targeting neighborhoods.
With more people working from home, criminals see the same cars in the same place day after day and it makes them a target, according to Friedlander.
Sgt. Mislange agrees.
“Someone thinks they can steal the car and it goes unnoticed for a longer period of time because the car is not being used,” she said.
In some cases crooks don’t have to break in, they just get in.
From 2017 to 2019, 244,000vehicles were stolen in the U.S. because the keys were left inside, according to data from the NICB.
Of the top five states where it happened most, Florida is second on the list to California.
“That’s the simplest thing,” Friedlander said. “Lock your doors take your key.”
If you drive a 2006 full-sized Ford pick-up truck, you certainly need to lock up.
It was the most stolen vehicle in Florida in 2019, according to the NICB, knocking off the Honda Civic which held the title for years.
“It’s the No. 1 vehicle for contractors,” Friedlander said.
“One thing we look at is what’s inside that vehicle, there could be thousands of dollars of tools in that vehicle,” he said.
Police say taking extra precautions never hurts, like steering wheel/brake locks, and kill switches.