Automobile thefts in Colorado continue to rise, and Grand Junction and Montrose are considered hot spots for the illicit activity, according to an annual report on the subject released this week.

Statewide, 2018 auto thefts were up 9.4 percent over the prior year, and 18 percent over 2016, according to the Colorado Auto Theft Intelligence Coordination Center, a task force of the Colorado State Patrol, local law enforcement agencies and others.

That annual report shows that there are, on average, more than 400 vehicles stolen every week statewide. Though Grand Junction averaged only about 3 a week, it and Montrose were still listed among the state's "hot spots" for car theft activities.

The report shows that about half of those thefts occur because of owner error, such as leaving keys in a vehicle or leaving it running unattended, a phenomenon known as "puffing."

"Auto theft is a crime of opportunity. Thieves are always on the lookout for the easy steals," said Carole Walker, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association, and chairwoman of Coloradans Against Auto Theft. "Thieves know that when the weather heats up, drivers are more likely to leave cars open or windows down when parked outside, or even leave cars running unattended with the air conditioner going."

The annual report comes out each July as part of National Auto Theft Prevention Month.

The report shows that auto thefts can lead to other crimes being committed.

"A domino effect can occur when a car is left unlocked or running unattended," said state patrol chief Col. Matthew Packard. "A vast majority of car thieves in Colorado commit additional crimes, such as armed robbery, home invasion, identity theft and drug-related offenses."

According to the report, the Front Range, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and the Grand Junction areas accounted for about 87 percent of all reported vehicle thefts statewide in 2018. More than 80 percent of them were recovered within a month of being stolen.

Statewide, more than 21,000 vehicles, the preponderance of which are passenger cars, were stolen last year. In Mesa County, 252 vehicles were stolen, a 10 percent increase over 2016, the report said.

The most common vehicles to be stolen continue to be the Honda Civic and Honda Accord, with the Ford F-250 coming in at a distant third by comparison.

Those three vehicles have routinely ranked high in popularity for car thieves in recent years, according to the National Crime Information Center.

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