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Longmont Police Department warns against a specific kind of automobile theft this winter

According to Sgt. Todd Chambers with the Longmont Police Department, or LPD, a puffer is an automobile theft that’s characterized as being stolen while left running and unattended — a theft trend which becomes more commonplace in the winter. 
puffer
Photo from Unsplash.

As winter in Colorado sparks cold weather, we often take measures to protect ourselves against the chilling temperatures — bundling up in coats and mittens before heading outdoors for example, or heating up the car before our moment of departure. The latter method, although it sounds great in theory, makes individuals more vulnerable to auto theft.

According to Sgt. Todd Chambers with the Longmont Police Department, or LPD, a puffer is an automobile theft that’s characterized as being stolen while left running and unattended — a theft trend which becomes more commonplace in the winter. 

“I think (puffers are) a little more prevalent in the winter because, for one, more people are warming their cars up in the winter time because they don’t want to get into a cold car,” Chambers said. 

Apart from more people warming up their cars ahead of time, puffers are likely to occur in the winter due to the cold weather that causes tailpipe emissions to be visible, thus making it easier for thieves to spot vehicles which are running and unattended. 

“Car thieves will drive around the city — especially during morning hours when they think people will be leaving for work — and they’ll look for these visible tail emissions,” Chambers said. “That’s an easy steal for them.”

LPD’s warning against puffers comes during a time when automobile thefts seem to be more prevalent in the Longmont area. According to Chambers, LPD noticed a significant spike in the number of reported auto thefts between years 2019 and 2020 — 313 auto thefts were reported in 2019 and, in 2020, that number rose to 424. Out of the 313 cases in 2019, 35 were puffers and, out of the 424 in 2020, 45 were recorded as puffers. Between January and October of this year, the total number of reported auto thefts hovered around 311 with 37 puffers, Chambers said, but he expects those numbers will rise when LPD adds in the auto theft reports from November and December. 

An automobile theft is deemed a puffer only in instances where the victim of the theft includes in the report that they had left the vehicle running and unattended when it was stolen, according to Chambers. 

In order to protect oneself from becoming a victim of a puffer theft, first and foremost, Chambers recommends against leaving your vehicle unattended while it’s running, he said. 

Additionally, people should always leave their car locked when they are not driving it. According to Chambers, this is especially true for people with cars that have systems that allow them to remotely start their car. 

“I think sometimes people get a sense of security with (remote-start cars) and perhaps there is — (some auto owners believe) there’s no way someone can drive away in this car,” Chambers said, “but there’s also perhaps some technology or knowledge out there among car thieves that can bypass a system like that.”

Chambers also advises against leaving a spare key in or around your vehicle — “no spare one in the glove box or anything like that,” he said, “so if somebody broke in and found it they’d be able to drive it away.”

In the event that one finds themself a victim of an automobile theft, they should contact LPD as soon as possible. Once LPD receives a report of an auto theft, the vehicle information gets entered into Colorado Crime Information Center, a statewide database, so if any law enforcement agency statewide runs the license plate, it’ll come back as stolen, according to Chambers. 

Even if someone witnesses their vehicle being stolen, LPD doesn’t suggest following the thief or confronting them. Instead, the individual should notify LPD immediately and the reporting officer will take down all available information to search for the thief, Chambers said. 

“We encourage people, if they witness it getting stolen, not to follow the person and not to confront them because you don’t know what that person may or may not do. (Auto thefts) are a property crime and we don’t want people getting hurt over a property crime,” Chambers said. 

When an automobile is stolen, the things a thief might do with it afterwards runs the gamut, according to Chambers — some people may attempt to sell the vehicle, use it simply to get from point A to point B, take it for a joyride, live in it for awhile before abandoning it or trading it for something else or it may be stolen to be used in organized crime, he said. 

To learn more about how to protect yourself from automobile theft this winter season and in general, Chambers recommends visiting lockdownyourcar.org, an authority organization that collects data on and strives to prevent automobile thefts in Colorado. 



Georgia Worrell

About the Author: Georgia Worrell

My name is Georgia Worrell and I am a summer intern at the Longmont Leader.
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