Auto thefts up 38 percent in neighborhoods around University of Minnesota

An increased number of auto thefts have been reported amid chilly temperatures.

Parked cars along 12th Avenue Southeast in the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood. Auto thefts in Marcy-Holmes are up 38 percent from last year.

Jack Rodgers

Parked cars along 12th Avenue Southeast in the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood. Auto thefts in Marcy-Holmes are up 38 percent from last year.

by Hannah Ovcharchyn

The never-ending Minnesota winter seems to be affecting more than students’ motivation levels. Auto thefts near the University of Minnesota are on the rise, according to police reports. 

The Minneapolis Police Department recorded a total of 105 stolen vehicles between the beginning of the year and April 9 in the second precinct, which includes University neighborhoods Marcy-Holmes, Como and Prospect Park. Roughly a fifth of all second precinct auto thefts have occurred in Marcy-Holmes.

Marcy-Holmes auto thefts have increased by 38 percent compared to the same time last year. MPD Second Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist Nick Juarez said the increase is partly due to the frigid weather. Many students will leave their cars running to warm up during the winter months, which leave them vulnerable to theft. 

Last year, Minneapolis’ winter was short and balmy: the average high temperature in April 2017 was between 50 and 60 degrees, according to AccuWeather, Inc. A year later, many students are waking up to start their cars in below freezing temperatures – the average teetering around 30 degrees so far. 

The University of Minnesota Police Department said they have not noticed a significant trend in auto thefts on the large campus. Vehicles are rarely stolen on campus since the majority of University parking areas are contracted or have a gate, UMPD Lieutenant Chuck Miner said. 

“[Thieves] would have to hassle with getting it out of a paid parking lot,” Miner said. 

Although the University of Minnesota is nationally ranked low in public safety, car thieves are deterred from the bustling campus. The Marcy-Holmes neighborhood – amid an uptick in robberies – is much quieter and presents easier opportunities for cars to be stolen.

The increasing density of Marcy-Holmes and the high price of parking contracts have pushed residents to park on city streets, which are often poorly-lit and not frequently patrolled. 

The neighborhood has also seen a rapid growth in its student population, a fact that could help explain the increase in auto thefts. Students from rural or suburban hometowns may not know basic measures to prevent themselves from falling victim to crime in Minneapolis, Juarez said.

“Many drivers leave their keys or spare key in the center console, under the visor or under the seats,” Juarez said. Some car thieves are lured by valuables kept in the vehicles’ front seats, leading to an attempt to open a car door or trunk latch.

UMPD Chief Matt Clark said students should not worry if their car goes missing. It is not infrequent for thieves to steal a car and joyride around, Clark said. These cars are typically found blocks away from where they were stolen and returned to the owner.

Clark said new technology, like GPS systems, makes it easier for police to track stolen vehicles, though older cars lack such technology. 

While these technological advances may help retrieve stolen vehicles, adopting personal safety measures is the best deterrent, according to MPD. 

“It’s simple; just don’t leave your car running,” Juarez said.