Two cars stolen in Rifle while left to warm up |

Two cars stolen in Rifle while left to warm up

Ryan Hoffman
An idling vehicle sits unoccupied in east Rifle.
Ryan Hoffman / Citizen Telegram |

After two vehicle thefts in the course of an hour this month, Rifle law enforcement repeated a previous warning on the dangers of leaving vehicles running and unattended.

The first theft was reported at 5:38 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 6, in the 1000 block of Munro Avenue, and the second was reported at 6:26 a.m. in the 1100 block of Access Road. Both vehicles were recovered that same day, and a suspect was arrested in the first theft.

In both cases, the owner had started the vehicle to warm it up and went back inside, a practice known as puffing, which has been an ongoing issue in Rifle during colder months, Rifle Police Chief John Dyer said.

The issue, he said, is similar to a series of vehicle break-ins in late 2015 because both often are crimes of opportunity. The vehicles were unlocked in the case of the vehicle break-ins this past fall.

“Most crimes like this are crimes of opportunity,” Dyer said. “When it’s easy, that’s when you have problems.”

Since the crime typically is one of opportunity, there is not one area in Rifle that is more susceptible to the crime.

Dyer recommends staying in the vehicle while it’s warming up, which he does himself and admits it can be quite uncomfortable on cold mornings. If a person decides not to remain in the car they should at least lock the doors while it warms up — after ensuring that they have a spare key to unlock the vehicle.

Locking the door does not guarantee a vehicle is safe from theft, but anything that makes it more difficult to steal is going to help, Dyer said.

Puffing is not an issue unique to Rifle.

Coloradans Against Auto Thefts (CAAT), a coalition of law enforcement agencies, insurance providers and others, announced a statewide campaign in December to increase awareness.

By doing so, CAAT hopes to make it harder for thieves, said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association and CAAT co-chair.

Statistically, vehicle theft in general continues to persist as a problem in Colorado.

In 2013, 11,502 vehicles were stolen in Colorado, which was a 5 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Intelligence Coordination Center. The No. 1 stolen car in 2013 was a Honda Accord, the same group reported.

People think it is just a property crime, but the ramifications are further reaching, Walker said.

It drives up insurance costs for everyone, and vehicle thefts are increasingly being tied to violent crimes, Walker said, while pointing to recent high-profile incidents. Included among those was a case in Aurora where police reportedly shot and killed a 25-year-old man who attempted to escape in a stolen vehicle. According to The Denver Post, the man rammed a police car and convenience store where the vehicle was parked.

Speaking of such incidents in general and not the case in Aurora specifically, Walker said, “it’s not just kids out joyriding — in many cases these thieves are bad guys.”

Locally, a stolen car was used as a getaway vehicle in the December armed robbery of a Carbondale marijuana store.

Enforcement and education

Colorado does have a state law pertaining to unattended vehicles. Any person who leaves their vehicle unattended “without first stopping the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key from the ignition, and effectively setting the brake” can be cited with a class B traffic infraction.

However, local law enforcement says the statute is not necessarily intended for the issue of warming one’s car before heading out in the morning. The law, those officials said, is intended to prevent people from unsafely parking their car in the first place.

The state statute does include language that states a person parking their car on any grade “shall turn the front wheels to the curb or side of the highway in such a manner as to prevent the vehicle from rolling onto the traveled way.”

Further, Dyer contends the law is not applicable to cars parked on private property, such as a driveway. Consequently, Rifle officers do not use the state statute to write citations for puffing.

The state law also is not heavily enforced in Glenwood Springs, said Glenwood Police Chief Terry Wilson.

Wilson said he could not remember an instance in Glenwood where a vehicle was stolen because it was puffing.

“I can’t recall us having one (car) that’s been stolen under those circumstances,” he said.

The same goes for Parachute, where Police Chief Cary Parmenter said his department does not enforce that state statute. The town has not had any vehicle thefts as a result of people warming up their vehicles, but there have been some vehicle thefts resulting from owners leaving their keys in the vehicle and not locking them, Parmenter said.

Departments elsewhere in Colorado do enforce the state law, Walker said, adding that it is up to local jurisdictions to interpret and enforce the law.

Some local jurisdictions, such as the town of Carbondale, have laws and policies to discourage people from letting vehicles idle. However, those laws typically make exemptions for extreme cold or heat.

Like idling policies elsewhere in the state, Carbondale’s is intended to protect Colorado’s air quality, according to the policy document. The exemption, which is intended to provide for the safety of the vehicle’s occupants, does imply that the vehicle should be occupied in such circumstances.

Still, the town has no specific law penalizing people for warming up their cars in the winter, said Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling.

Four of Garfield County’s other municipalities do not have such a policy, according to local police chiefs, and neither does Garfield County. The Telegram could not confirm if New Castle has a policy.

Regardless of laws and the possible penalties, Walker said people need to realize the risks and be more aware.

As for Rifle, Dyer said he has no plans of proposing a puffing ordinance, and nobody at City Hall has raised the issue. However, echoing Walker’s statement, he said people need to be aware of the risk when vehicles are left running, unattended and unlocked.

“That’s where I’m coming from,” Dyer said, “it’s a matter of personal responsibility, and certainly we’ll continue with education in terms of securing a vehicle, but I have no intention of bringing (a possible ordinance) up.”

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