New York is becoming a live action version of “Grand Theft Auto.”
Vehicle thefts are the driving force behind the Big Apple’s soaring crime rate so far this year, skyrocketing 93 percent in January versus the same period last year, NYPD data show.
In the first 30 days of 2022, 1,151 cars and motorized vehicles, such as scooters and motorcycles, were stolen, compared to 598 during the same time frame in 2021.
January’s numbers alone equaled roughly 21 percent of the total vehicle thefts seen throughout all of 2019, which saw 5,430 thefts, and is part of a COVID-era crime trend that has been steadily increasing over the past two years.
In 2020, there were 9,037 stolen vehicles, a 66 percent increase from 2019. In 2021, 10,421 thefts were reported.
It’s the highest number of vehicle thefts seen in a decade, NYPD crime statistics show, and the numbers keep rising at a rate of about 38 per day so far this year.
Cops say the uptick isn’t driven by organized crime and chop shops like it was in the 1990s. Now, it’s from careless drivers who leave their vehicles running and brazen criminals who use the stolen rides to get around.
“It is a crime of opportunity. They drive the car until they run out of gas or take them home instead of taking the train or Uber. A lot of the cars end up in Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey,” a police source explained to The Post.
When victims report vehicle thefts, cops hear a medley of the same excuses: “I just ran in to play lotto” or, “I just ran in to get the carseat, I am going to pick up my daughter,” law enforcement sources said.
“People think it is safe, but obviously they couldn’t be more wrong,” a police source said.
Food delivery drivers are also frequent victims and those who have cars sometimes leave them on while double parked, making them a prime target for thieves.
“If the police comes, and it’s double parked, they’re less likely to give you a ticket if the car is on. That why I like to keep it on,” Luis Hidalgo, a delivery driver, explained as he picked up an order from Wingstop on East Gun Hill Road.
“Sometimes I bring someone with me to guard the car while I do the deliveries, and if not, I have two keys. One to keep the car on inside, and the other to keep with me and lock it from the outside.”
Compounding the issue is also the use of electronic key fobs, and drivers’ tendency to leave them inside the car, police sources said.
“With today’s cars, people leave their key fob in the console mostly because of laziness. Thieves can also tell if the keys are in new cars if the side mirrors are out. If there is no key the mirrors are turned in,” one Brooklyn cop said.
“And you can’t forget, there is no bail for stealing a car.”
In 2021, the majority of vehicle thefts were reported in the Bronx. Tommy Zongo, a 39-year-old who lives in Baychester, used to leave his key in the car while running errands but stopped last month when a gas station and car wash cashier both told him to be more careful due to the uptick in thefts.
“I did it a lot of times, I say I was lucky,” Zongo told The Post as he filled up his SUV.
“It’s scary, but you have to take precautions.”
Erika Cruz-Cooke, 31, said she used to always leave her keys in the car but these days, she’s trying to play it safer.
“Now you’ll see me still do it, but I’ll just be running right back to take it out and lock my car … definitely trying to break that habit,” the Co-op City resident said.
“I’m just super nervous to be in this area especially when there’s a lot of people around, I just try to be super aware of my surroundings.”
Additional reporting by Craig McCarthy