Thieves drive up numbers of cars stolen near U

The number of automobile thefts on campus increased from 15 in 2004 to 24 in 2005.

Elizabeth Cook

Auto theft has increased throughout Minneapolis and around campus.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University Police Department, said that although the number of motor vehicle thefts has increased from 2004 to 2005, it’s still a small number compared with other crimes on campus, such as theft, which is the top campus crime.

In Minneapolis, 975 vehicles have been stolen from Jan. 1 to last week, an increase of 15 percent from the same period last year. In the 2nd Precinct, 129 vehicles were reported stolen, an increase of 24 percent from the same period last year, said Ron Reier, public information officer for the Minneapolis Police Department.

On campus, motor vehicle thefts occur not only on streets and in parking lots, but also in parking garages.

In 2005 there were vehicles stolen from the Oak Street Ramp, East River Parkway Garage and Fourth Street Ramp, Johnson said.

Reier said the most-stolen cars in Minneapolis are older – meaning late ’80s and early ’90s models – Honda Civics, Toyota Camrys and Oldsmobile Cutlasses.

But the makes of the vehicles vary significantly with campus auto thefts, Johnson said.

To name a few: Toyota, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Honda and Buick cars all were stolen from campus in 2005. In addition, a motor scooter was stolen from University Village and a golf cart from Siebert Field, Johnson said.

When Anson Opara parked his car on Ninth Avenue Southeast, he expected it to be there when he came back, but instead of driving home that night he ended up calling police to report his 2000 Honda Civic was stolen.

Opara is a math senior and a Daily employee. Attempts to reach a victim of car theft who does not work for the Daily were unsuccessful.

Opara was carless for a week and a half before police found it in St. Paul with the ignition punched out and one of the locks broken.

Although Opara removed his keys from the car, in some similar situations students leave their keys in the car or even leave the car running, Johnson said.

Many vehicle thefts easily can be prevented, Reier said.

Some ways to protect against motor vehicle theft are to park in busy places and to report any unusual or suspicious activity, Johnson said.

For example, if anyone notices someone tampering with a steering column in a car, they should call police, Johnson said.

Car alarms and theft prevention devices such as The Club can reduce the chance of having a car stolen, Johnson said.

James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for the Southeast Como Improvement Association, said theft from an automobile occurs more frequently than the actual vehicle getting stolen, but it’s still a concern among residents.

“Auto theft is a little more of an issue in other neighborhoods than it is in Como,” De Sota said.

Two cars were stolen from Elm Street Southeast in March, De Sota said. There were also two more in the neighborhood in late February.

Carol Oosterhuis, crime prevention specialist for the 2nd Precinct, said the Minneapolis Police Department has a bait-car program to try to catch auto thieves.

According to the city of Minneapolis’ Web site, the cars have remote-controlled electronics that automatically lock the doors and shut the engine off once the theft is in progress, while cameras record the whole scene.

Reier said these cars are placed in all precincts but didn’t have specific addresses or dates of when police placed the cars in University-area neighborhoods.

Joe Ring, president of Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, said crime has increased 150 percent in the past two years in the neighborhood, based on the association’s research.

Ring said 80 percent of the increase occurred within three blocks of The Melrose apartments, and of that 80 percent, 65 percent was auto-related.

Ring said that when these trends were discovered, Valerie Wurster, inspector for the Minneapolis Police’s Department’s 2nd Precinct, came to a community meeting. Wurster did not return phone calls for an interview.

She said it’s a group of about 100 opportunistic criminals who work together and “prey” on students, Ring said.

“Students are the ideal victim,” he said.

They tend to be more relaxed because they haven’t had bad things happen to them yet, Ring said.