CITYWIDE — Lulled into a false sense of security, some locals are leaving cars unlocked, and in some extreme cases leaving keys in the ignition, leading to an increase in auto burglaries and thefts, Santa Monica police stated in a bulletin released this week.

Officers said criminals are specifically targeting subterranean parking garages at apartment buildings or condos and warned drivers to take precautions and not leave spare keys in glove compartments, center consoles or in ignitions.

What would have initially been the theft of items in the car or loose change from the ashtray evolves into the theft of a car when keys are not stored properly, police warned.

The same goes for parking structures, which are especially vulnerable because there is more traffic and the chance for suspicious activity to occur increases.

Officers are recommending drivers take these precautions:

• Never leave your car unlocked, even in your own subterranean garage, driveway, carport or in front of your home;

• If your car has an alarm system, activate it every time you leave your car;

• If you have an anti-theft device, e.g., a shut-off switch or a steering wheel lock, use it. Deterrents like these will likely make a thief skip your car and go to an easier target;

• Never leave your car parked with the engine running;

• Never leave any key in the vehicle for any reason;

• Be aware of your surroundings by using your mirrors to see if anyone is following you into your subterranean garage, and pay attention for anyone who does not seem to belong in the garage or on the property.

Although certain cars are more popular among car thieves for their parts, there is a growing trend indicating that almost any vehicle is a potential target, including motorcycles, police stated in the bulletin.

If a crime is in progress, police want to remind people to call 911. Otherwise, contact the police department by using the non-emergency number (310) 458-849.

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