‘Don’t be an easy victim’: Auto thefts up in West Michigan

WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — You may have seen the social media posts: Be on the lookout for Bill Steffen’s SUV.

Our chief meteorologist emeritus’ vehicle was stolen Monday afternoon from the parking lot at Craig’s Cruisers in Wyoming.

That got News 8 wondering just how bad the vehicle theft problem in the area is, and how you can avoid losing your ride.

While this area along Clyde Park Avenue in Wyoming has seen a rash of thefts since the beginning of the year, the numbers are up countywide.

Sixteen of Wyoming’s 161 vehicle thefts since the beginning of the year have happened on the city’s southeast side, including businesses along Clyde Park Avenue near 54th Street.

Much of that is because thieves are finding easy targets.

“We’re going to review what we have here at our place. But we have security roaming the parking lot. We have the cameras and so does everybody else,” Craig’s Cruisers CEO Jeff Gebhart said. “But the biggest defense you can do is just lock your doors.”

Wyoming is hardly a vehicle theft hot spot. Numbers are up throughout the country.

“A lot of what we’re seeing today, individuals are stealing vehicles just to joyride. Or even to commit additional crimes with the stolen vehicle,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joy Matthews said.

In communities served by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, the number of auto thefts is up from 145 in the period between January and August of 2020, to 209 for the same period this year.

The pandemic may have driven down the 2019 and 2020 numbers in some areas.

“Sometimes, individuals will break into a vehicle with the intent to steal items. And they just happen to see the car keys in the car and take that opportunity then to steal the vehicle as well.” Matthews said.

So along with making sure you lock your vehicle, take extra keys, like the set you leave in a purse or bag, with you.

And keep personal items out of site.

“Don’t be an easy victim. Secure those personal items like wallets and purses and cellphones, cameras, brief cases in your trunk,” Matthews said.