On a joyride: police see stolen car reports nearly triple since last year

Green Bay Police have received 36 reports of stolen vehicles already this year, just 46 days into the new year.
Updated: Feb. 15, 2022 at 6:10 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Whether we’re in a deep freeze or a mini-heat wave, the problem of stolen cars appears to be immune to the temperature.

And Green Bay Police say it’s getting worse, with cases averaging almost one per day this year.

While some people may think it’s not their problem if it’s not their vehicle, police say these kinds of crimes have a bigger impact on the community than many realize.

“Yes, we’re having a problem with stolen cars, much more than we had last year,” says Green Bay Police Commander Paul Ebel.

In fact, it’s a lot more.

Green Bay Police have received 36 reports of stolen vehicles already this year, just 46 days into the new year.

Compare that to 10 at this time last year and you can see why police are becoming frustrated.

It could also be because these are such preventable crimes.

“It’s a crime of opportunity. That’s what we’re seeing most of the time is a crime of opportunity,” explains Ebel.

He says many of the stolen vehicles in the city this year happened when people decided they didn’t want to drive a cold car and left them unattended while they warmed up.

“They go in the house, let the car warm up, they come out, and the car is gone,” says Ebel.

Some were stolen when a driver left them running outside a gas station; others left a spare key in the car.

“If it’s overnight, you have a spare key in your car, take it out,” urges Ebel.

Yet other incidents have happened, police say, when someone let a friend -- or friend of a friend whose name they didn’t even know -- borrow the car.

“I don’t know who he is or who she is and they end up never taking it back, so we recover some of those as far away as Chicago,” says Ebel.

Most never make it quite that far though.

Police showed us a map, with dozens of purple dots scattered across the city, indicating each stolen vehicle reported in 2022.

Another map shows red dots, too, indicating vehicles they’ve recovered.

Often times, police say, they’re found a few blocks away or just across town.

And so far, there’s a pretty good track record of finding them.

As for the shape they’re in when they are recovered? That’s a different story.

“They take it, they hit somebody or hit something and continue on, like a hit and run accident or damage it somehow, and it’s just left abandoned,” explains Ebel.

Police say they find some stolen vehicles crashed into snow banks.

Others are found because the thief forgot to plug the parking meter.

“Parking enforcement. If you have an overnight parking issue and the car has three parking tickets on it, the parking utility will alert us to that,” says Ebel.

Yet as simple as it sounds, these crimes impact more than just those car owners when they pull officers off other calls.

“It does take away resources from our other officers, but it’s not just officers, because we’ll fingerprint those vehicles, do DNA swabs, so we can prosecute the people responsible for them,” says Ebel.

Police tell us they have made several arrests, including both adults and juveniles. They say some are not even old enough to have their own driver’s license.

So it begs the question, why do they do it?

The answer? Just because they could.

That makes the solving the problem rather simple, police say.

“If you’re starting your car to warm it up, make sure you’re using a remote starter or lock your vehicle doors,” advises Ebel.

Green Bay Police have received 36 reports of stolen vehicles already this year, just 46 days into the new year.

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