COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Local authorities say many vehicle owners are partly responsible for an increase of stolen vehicles across the state and in some areas of southern Colorado.
According to the latest data from a statewide law enforcement task force, an average of 350 vehicles are taken every week.
Local authorities say auto theft is rising in Colorado Springs and unincorporated El Paso County, holding steady in Manitou Springs and decreasing in Fountain.
"We're up 4 percent over last year when we had 2,000 vehicles stolen," said Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu, a Colorado Springs police detective.
Detective Mike Boggs of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office couldn't disclose exact numbers but said, "It's not getting any better."
Authorities agree that many vehicles are stolen because owners leave them unlocked, leave them running or leave keys or other valuables inside.
"That's about 25 percent of all stolen vehicles," Miyakusu said. "It's a preventable crime."
"People are busy nowadays," Boggs said. "They don't take the time, or they don't remember, whether they locked their vehicles or left something inside. It creates easy opportunities for thieves. Sometimes, we can reduce it. Sometimes, we can't."
Authorities also say more stolen vehicles are being used to commit crimes. This year alone, for example, stolen vehicles have been used in Colorado Springs to crash into businesses, and gain entry to steal guns and medical marijuana.
"It's not just kids joy-riding any more," said Fountain police Sgt. Scott Gilbertsen, although one of his officers was hurt while pursuing two juvenile suspects in a stolen car Tuesday in Colorado Springs.
Gilbertsen said a smaller town and more cautious drivers may be why stolen vehicle numbers aren't increasing in Fountain.
Some of the thieves' methods are unusual.
On Monday at a car wash in downtown Colorado Springs, a man who pretended to be a customer took that customer's vehicle before crashing it a few blocks away and running from the scene with a bloody face.
Authorities say even though they ask repeatedly, they remind drivers to keep vehicles locked, not leave them running and not to leave keys and valuables inside.
"It'll make your life easier and our job better," Boggs said.
Miyakusu said the recovery rate for stolen vehicles is around 85 percent.
"That tells me they're not ending up in chop shops and sold for parts," he said. "They're being used more often by criminals who can travel and commit more crimes in other areas."