RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Car thieves have their sights set on Richmond. The crime was up 35 percent citywide in 2016.
And we're not talking about car break-ins -- we're talking about walking outside and finding the spot where your car used to be.
There were 57 car thefts in just Richmond's Fan District last year, more than double than what was reported in 2015.
Thieves hit streets like Grove, Grace, Floyd and West Cary.
"I was like come on man," said Elissa Calvert, who caught her car thief in the act. "You are literally going to get in a car that is on and the person is standing right there and try to drive off?"
Richmond Police say The Fan and Museum districts are enticing. There are very few garages. This is on-street parking with a mix of families and students.
"Everybody parks on the street so it's like a line of cars It's like a car dealership. You can go down the line and check out every car as you go down," said Lt. Bill Woo, who has been with the Richmond Police for more than two decades. He oversees sector 313, which covers The Fan.
"It's definitely a crime of opportunity," said Woo. "Obviously cars being unlocked and cars being warmed up and left running. A lot of what we see is just the joy riders, the kids. We'll find our cars in Henrico or another part of the city and we'll find those cars in that part of the city back in our area. Like they are just grabbing cars going back and forth to areas."
Woo's seen enough and is taking action. He teamed up with Department of Public Works. His officers drove the agency around The Fan and showed them some of the problems, which includes bad lighting at night.
"Lights deter some of the criminal activity. They don't want to be seen. Obviously with the lights on these people they're going to shy away from those areas more," said Woo.
He says this year Richmond Public Works is going to replace a lot of the box lights for newer rounder lights that will better illuminate the area.
And the agency is going to cut back several trees that are growing into the lights. When the leaves are in bloom, the light is blocked before it reaches the street.
A majority of the time, residents' actions leave the door open for these thieves.
Police say there are simple steps you can take to prevent your car from being stolen:
- Don't leave your vehicle unlocked
- Don't leave your keys inside the car
- Don't leave your valuables in the car
- Don't leave the car running
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