The pandemic has made the problem worse, said Deputy Inspector Jessica E. Corey of the New York City Police Department’s Crime Prevention Division. With the increase in deliveries as people try to stay home, many victims are delivery drivers making drop-offs, Inspector Corey said. She stressed that in many of the city’s cases, people have also left cars running with traditional keys.
In New York City, 6,858 vehicles were stolen in 2020, up from 3,988 the year before. Of those taken in 2020, more than 3,450 were stolen while they were running. The year before, 1,634 were stolen while running. (The department does not specify whether electronic or traditional keys are used.)
A snapshot of a single New York City day is revealing: On Dec. 5 alone, 11 vehicles were stolen while left running, and another six were stolen with keys or fobs inside, according to the Police Department.
There are many ways to leave a car vulnerable: Some drivers forget a key fob inside. Others take it, but leave the car on, allowing the vehicle to be driven away — though not restarted later. Some cars can be started if the key is just nearby. And in a smaller number of cases, criminals have used technology to reprogram keyless cars.
This summer, a thief who took an Audi left running outside a Brooklyn pet store also made off with the owner’s French bulldog, Calvin. Police recovered both the car and dog about four hours later in Manhattan.
“What still haunts me to this day is I can’t imagine what it was like for him and how scared he must have been,” said Calvin’s owner, Zach Sobel, 27. On July 11, Mr. Sobel said he left his car running in Sunset Park with the air-conditioner on to keep Calvin cool, pocketed his key fob, and went into the shop.
But a second fob was still inside the glove compartment.
Mr. Sobel, who works at an automotive paint supply company, has since recorded a video for the New York Police Department to educate people on the risk. “It was the scariest feeling in the world and it could happen to anybody,” he said.