Minneapolis police: 262 vehicles have been stolen in city since the start of 2020

Minneapolis police are dealing with what they are calling an "epidemic" of car thefts to start off the new year, as reports of vehicle thefts have nearly doubled from last year's numbers.

Already in 2020, police say they've dealt with 262 reports of auto thefts in the city, which is about 13 cars a day. Last year at this point, police say they only had 138 reports. The five-year average at this point in the year is only 171.

A vast majority of the cars stolen this year, about 73 percent, were taken when a vehicle was left running. The startling statistic has officers making a push to urge drivers to take basic precautions to protect their vehicles.

"Would someone take their cell phone out, put it on the gas pump," asked police spokesperson John Elder. "Go into the gas station shop, pay, then come back out and expect their phone to still be there? People wouldn't do that. So why would they do it with an automobile?"

And police say the crimes don't always end with the theft of the vehicle. They say those cars are often used to commit other crimes.

"We are seeing robberies, hit and runs, and other crimes being associated with stolen automobiles," explained Elder.

Police say most car thefts come back to three major issues: 1) People leaving their cars running, 2) Food delivery drivers leaving cars unattended, 3) Key fobs being left in a car.

Minneapolis police warn drivers who leave keys in their running cars could be cited under law. Automatic starters are allowed as long as they have anti-theft technology.

Along with a news conference on Friday, police say they are launching a larger campaign to remind drivers of the risks of leaving their running cars unattended.