COLORADO SPRINGS — An increasing number of stolen cars is fueling crime in communities across the Pikes Peak Region and beyond. Some of the most easily stolen vehicles are the ones left running with nobody inside. News5 takes a deep dive into 'puffer' problems in our neighborhoods.
Colorado has seen a significant increase in auto thefts over the last couple of years. Colorado State Patrol reports last year (2020) there was a 57% increase in the number of cars reported stolen statewide.
Here in the Pikes Peak Region the crooks continue to cash in on "puffers" those vehicles left running with nobody inside.
"Well, we had a pretty big loss this morning. Somebody had stolen his truck," said Bree Monks, a Colorado Springs resident.
Monks is trying to warn neighbors after her husband's truck was stolen from right in front of her family's home just a few days ago. She says her husband left it running.
"He ran inside grabbed his coffee and his lunch and it only took him about a minute or so and he turned around and came outside and he felt really confused when his truck was just gone in the front of our home," said Monks.
Moving recently from a home out in the country, Monks says her family quickly learned thieves are actively looking for these "puffer" situations.
"We have a neighbor a couple of houses down, I guess last spring his truck was stolen from right out front after he had started it," said Monks. "So, after talking with people I heard that's actually a thing that people do around here. They look for trucks warming up."
The Colorado Springs Police Department's crime stats show this is a year-round problem that spikes during the cold months.
"If they can get in that car it is gone in no time whatsoever," said Crime Prevention Officer Scott Mathis of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
Mathis has worked to combat these puffer thefts for years and he says people need to realize how these stolen cars are being used once they leave the driveway in the wrong hands.
"They use these vehicles to go commit other crimes," said Mathis.
While the crooks typically aren't picky when it comes to "puffers", take a good look at this list, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau these were the most commonly stolen vehicles in Colorado last year.
Investigators say whether your car is on this list or not, a stolen car is a major public safety and officer safety issue.
"So they will ram law enforcement, they will ram other people. They don't care about that and yeah they do use them to commit other violent crimes," said Mathis.
And when it comes to the people stealing cars, investigators say they often see familiar faces.
"We have prolific offenders. We can arrest people dozens of times for stealing motor vehicles they will go serve a short sentence, they will be out in a few days before their court (appearance) further down and guess what they're doing? They are out stealing cars again. We arrest repeat offenders all the time," said Mathis.
It's why victims and officers agree, limiting opportunities for our cars to be stolen is the most important step to keep people safe.
"Just take your keys with you and take them with you everywhere you go, even if it's just right in front of your house," said Monks.
Investigators say it's very important to report stolen vehicles as soon as possible and to share surveillance video that might help in the wake of one of these crimes.