A police cruiser was damaged when underage car thieves fled RCMP on Saturday.
The collision occurred during efforts to stop thefts that morning of unlocked running vehicles, which RCMP say is a growing problem.
Seven cars and trucks were stolen between 6 and 10 a.m. Four times, RCMP tried unsuccessfully to catch the thieves as they fled, crashing into a cruiser at one point.
“They put the public at risk,” said Cpl. Sarah Knelsen, adding that RCMP received several reports of erratic driving and fueling vehicles without payment, with most believed to be caused by the youths, who are known to police.
A female who cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act was captured when a vehicle lost control and hit a snowbank. Investigation resulted in the arrests of three young males and a warrant issued for a fourth.
One is in custody charged with two counts of theft over $5,000, three counts of possession of stolen property over $5,000 and eight counts of breaching release conditions. He appears in court Thursday. Charges are pending against the others.
The names of the male suspects cannot be released under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Knelsen said drivers should never leave keys in vehicles.
“These were targets of opportunity. They were either unlocked and running or unlocked with the keys in them.
“Lots of them are when somebody runs into a 7-Eleven to get milk or something and they leave their vehicle running and come out and it’s stolen.
“It’s public awareness: don’t leave your vehicle running.”
RCMP say since Jan. 1, 104 vehicles have been stolen in the city.
“Seven in one morning. That’s quite a few,” said Knelsen.
A Red Deer man who didn’t want his name used for fear of reprisals saw the theft of a pickup at the 22nd Street Mac’s store around 7:15 a.m. He watched a car back in and a youth get out and approach his passenger’s side.
“Something caught my eye and the kid got in this truck and took off. (The driver) obviously left the keys in it.”
He notified the truck’s owner in the store and they tried to follow, losing the truck near the Collicutt Centre.
On Sunday, the man and a friend were in the 30th Avenue Tim Hortons around 8:30 a.m. when a sobbing woman entered and asked them if they’d seen anyone steal her truck.
“It’s ironic, two in 25 hours.”
RCMP say witnesses should never try to pursue suspected thieves, instead reporting vehicle details and direction of travel immediately to police.
Employers like Pidherney’s, a Rocky Mountain House-based trucking and construction company, often have policies to avoid such thefts.
“Vehicles are not to be left unattended unless they are locked and the keys are not left in them,” said health, safety and environment manager Alycia Calvert. “We don’t want that to happen to any of our vehicles.”
Lauren Maris, a City of Red Deer environmental program specialist, said theft is “another very good and very tangible reason not to idle.
“It’s such a small convenience, it doesn’t really compare to the big inconvenience of having your vehicle stolen.”
The city’s no idling policy has been in place since 2009. It saves money, fuel and limits carbon emissions “if you’re going to be idling for more than a minute,” said Maris.
The Insurance Bureau of Canada says unlocked vehicles or those with keys in them are covered under auto policies, but vehicle contents may not be covered under some home, tenant and condo policies if there are no visible signs of forcible entry into a locked vehicle.