You have heard the warnings many times, “lock your car doors and do not leave belongings inside.”

But police say people are not following that advice.

The Chattanooga Police Department said just last week, 45 percent of vehicles reported stolen were easy targets because the keys were left in the vehicle.

Aside from last week's numbers, Chattanooga police say 1,036 cars were reported stolen this year. Only 342 of those cars were found and returned to the owner.

It is a crime of opportunity and Sgt. Ty Cooper says thieves are easily getting away with it.

“We've seen an increase in the last three years of these vehicle thefts,” Cooper said. “All you have to do is remove your key from your vehicle. Do not leave a spare key in your vehicle. Do not leave your car running when you go in to get coffee. It's just common sense stuff that could stop some of these thefts.”

Cooper said unlocked vehicles are main targets.      

“There will be about four, five, six suspects get out of one vehicle and then what they do is they will shoot off. All they are doing is going to each car in the neighborhood pulling up on door handles.”

That action has been caught on home surveillance cameras several times this year. Cooper said the people behind these thefts and burglaries are typically young, ranging from 14 to 17-years-old.

“They're targeting the vehicles to break into them initially and get whatever property they can get; money, change, weapons and that's one of the big issues we're seeing,” Cooper said. “But like I said, if they find the keys or if the car will start, they will take the car too.”

Cooper said the guns stolen from vehicles are usually used in other crimes.
           
It is not hard to become a target, but there are simple things you can to do make it harder for thieves to get away with your things.

“It's just responsibility. I mean you have a responsibility to not only protect your property but society.”

Chattanooga police say the airport has the most stolen cars because thieves are renting cars and not returning them.

They say the models of cars stolen the most so far this year are the Ford F-150, Nissan Altima and Chevy Malibu.