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If the keys are in the car, you need to be in the car

The number of auto thefts has increased in Chattanooga and vehicle owners are making it even easier for these offenders by leaving their keys in the vehicle.

According to Chattanooga Police Department data compiled by crime analysts, in the last month, 125 vehicles were stolen, bringing this year’s total to 660 vehicles. During the same period last year, 564 autos were stolen. That means auto thefts have increased by 11% this year.

Of the 660 vehicles stolen so far this year, 228 had keys in the vehicle and 59 of those were left with the ignition running. That means 35% of the autos stolen in 2017 had keys in the car.

“The quicker a car thief can steal your vehicle, the more attractive it is,” said CPD Property Crimes Lt. Craig Joel. “Taking your keys with you and locking the car doors is the simplest, most cost-effective way to make your vehicle less attractive to thieves.”

As the temperature rises in Chattanooga so does the number of auto thefts. In the past 30 days, CPD has responded to 125 stolen auto calls, keys were left in 50 of them. That’s 40% of vehicles stolen with the keys in them!

“Auto theft of idling vehicles is a serious concern,” said CPD Auto Theft Unit Ofc. Ty Cooper. “During the hot, summer months we see a spike in thefts tied to people trying to keep their vehicles cool. It’s hot, it’s humid. We understand that, but we should be sitting in our cars when they’re running and no one should leave an unattended child in a vehicle.”

In just this month alone, CPD officers have responded to a call for a child left unattended in a vehicle resulting in the child’s death and two calls for kidnapping because children were left unattended in an idling vehicle.

Not every state has laws that prohibit leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, but Tennessee does. On many cases CPD officers work with the Hamilton County District Attorney’s Office to consider the totality of circumstances which will determine the applicable charges that could include:

TCA Code 39-15-401 provides that “any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor.” Class A misdemeanors carry a penalty of not greater than 11 months, 29 days or a fine up to $2,500, or both. If the abused child is eight years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.

TCA Code 39-13-212 states that criminally homicide is a Class E felony.

TCA Code 39-15-402 carries a possible Class B or Class A felony for aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect or endangerment. Class A felonies can carry a penalty of not less than 15 no more than 60 years. In addition, the jury may assess a fine not to exceed $50,000.

TCA Code 55-10-803 (a) It is an offense for a person responsible for a child younger than seven (7) years of age to knowingly leave that child in a motor vehicle located on public property or while on the premises of any shopping center, trailer park, or any apartment house complex, or any other premises that is generally frequented by the public at large without being supervised in the motor vehicle by a person who is at least thirteen (13) years of age, if:

(1) The conditions present a risk to the child's health or safety;

(2) The engine of the motor vehicle is running; or

(3) The keys to the motor vehicle are located anywhere inside the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

(b) A violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of two hundred dollars ($200) for the first offense.

(c) A second or subsequent violation of this section is a Class B misdemeanor punishable only by a fine of five hundred dollars ($500).


The Chattanooga Police Department is offering these tips to prevent your car from being stolen:

Never leave keys in the car while it’s unoccupied. Close all windows & the sunroof.

Never leave your vehicle running and unattended

Lock the vehicle doors, even while driving

Have your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) etched on each window

Install an anti-theft system in your vehicle if it doesn’t have one. Many insurers offer discounts on certain systems.

Chattanooga Police Department
3410 Amnicola Hwy.
Chattanooga, TN 37406 (map)

Office hours are Monday through Friday 8:00 AM through 5:00 PM

Emergencies: 911

To report a crime or request assistance: (423) 698-2525

General Information:
(423) 643-5000

Crime Prevention and Community Outreach:
(423) 643-5090

Crime Stoppers Hotline:
(423) 698-3333

Drug Tip Hotline:
(423) 493-BUST (2878)

Homicide Tip Line: 
(423) 643-5100



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Photo by Mike Williams