RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia State Police and other agencies are urging drivers to lock their cars to prevent the rise in car thefts.

Last year, 11,470 cars were stolen in Virginia. Locally, Richmond had 738 cars stolen throughout the city and has already seen a 36% increase just this year. Officers say that the main cause of vehicle theft nowadays is from drivers leaving their cars on and unattended. This gives thieves the opportunity to look for cars to steal easily.

“That was one of their things, they would look for people who would leave their cars unlocked and they would jump in the car for a joyride,” said Wyatt Venable who has witnessed car thefts in the past.

Virginia State Police and other agencies are urging drivers to lock their cars to prevent the rise in car thefts. (Photo Courtesy Rolynn Wilson, 8News)

Now, robbers are using this crime to their benefit – to commit other crimes. Town Police Supply was crashed into by a 2016 Mercedes SUV last year. After stealing the car and driving into the store, the man was reported smashing display cases and taking guns with him.  

“In this particular case, somebody decided to bypass the use of license plates by taking someone else’s car and making it look like somebody else committed this crime. They bypassed the store hours of the store by driving through the front and they bypassed the federal firearms background checks by stealing the guns and they didn’t pay for them,” said Chief Jeffery Katz with Chesterfield County Police.

While the vehicle was recovered a short distance away, no suspect was arrested.

Virginia State Police implemented their ‘Help Eliminate Auto Theft’ program also known as ‘HEAT‘ 30 years ago to try and help prevent cases like this. Now, local, state and regional agencies have partnered together to share one message in their ‘Love My Ride’ campaign, created to encourage Virginians to take the simple steps necessary to protect their belongings and to keep others safe.

Beyond locking the car, officers suggest drivers remove valuables from their cars and park in protected or well-lit areas.