Victim tracks down stolen car as St. Louis area police departments grapple with non-stop car thefts

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 10:21 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Every day police departments across St. Louis and St. Charles work to stop the onslaught of car thieves plaguing neighborhoods and gas stations.

“It’s steady, it’s nonstop,” explained St. Charles County Police Chief Kurt Frisz.

The problem is not unique to one area. Every police department is dealing with the rising problem. In many areas, the numbers are double compared to last year.

“It was shocking, it was absolutely shocking,” said Helga Komen, one of the latest victims.

On September 28 she pulled into the gas station on Clayton Road and Big Bend in Richmond Heights. She got out to enter her credit card information on the pump. Before she could turn around and pump gas into her BMW, someone drove up, jumped out of their car, slid into the driver’s seat and took off with Komen’s car.

It was one of 78 thefts so far this year in Richmond Heights. Up from 48 last year. In unincorporated St. Louis County they’ve had 1,981 car thefts.

But in St. Louis, the number is the area municipality with the most incidents by far. In the last 180 days, the city has had 3,656 reported vehicle thefts. That’s roughly 20 per day. About 149 of those involved cars that were left running.

Komen was able to use her BMW app to track her car’s location. It was found in north St. Louis in an overgrown garage. St. Louis Police were able to recover it the same day with minimal damage.

No arrest has been made. St. Louis City police were unable to provide a number of people arrested so far this year for car thefts. But in St. Charles County, Chief Frisz says they take a proactive approach to catching car thieves.

“We’re at almost 400 felony arrests this year just with our task force operations,” said Frisz.

The St. Chares County Auto Task Force works to stop car thefts in the area through policing and prosecution.

In Creve Coeur, there have been 58 cars stolen this year. The two biggest challenges are public complacency with people leaving keys in their cars and a lack of accountability from the criminal justice system, the department says.

“We have found that many of the offenders stealing vehicles are juveniles. When it comes to juveniles and the crime of auto theft, the crime is not considered a serious enough offense by the Family Court to keep the juvenile in custody. They are following a point system, outlined in state statute, to make that decision. Juveniles are promptly released once arrested, and return to commit the same crimes since there is little to no consequence for their behavior,” said a spokesperson for the department.

In Richmond Heights, Police Chief Gerry Rohr echoes that concern.

“Zero incentive to not be a repeat car criminal,” said Rohr.

Police are begging the public to help them combat the issue by being proactive. Remove keys from vehicles, lock your doors and don’t leave cars running, especially as the winter months approach.