ARLINGTON -- During the summer, with everyone at picnics, amusement parks and shopping malls, a crucial question pops up: Who's watching the car?
Police have a pretty good idea.
Area auto burglary and theft task forces kicked off "Watch Your Car Month" on Wednesday to warn that thieves are shadowing the frolicking herds.
"They window-shop like anyone else does," Dallas police spokesman Kevin Janse said. "Except they're looking for stuff to break in and steal."
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The good news is that protecting your car and valuables is relatively simple and takes just a little common sense. Lock your car and take the keys with you.
Take valuables with you, or put them in the trunk -- but before you arrive at your destination. Thieves often watch for that particular protective move, officials said.
And leaving a spare key in the car often makes things even worse, said Arlington police Sgt. Matt Pedersen, supervisor of the Tarrant Regional Auto Crimes Task Force.
"You should really account for your keys," Pedersen said.
"Burglars might break into a car because they see a bag on the seat, and when they're going through it, they find a key. So the burglar becomes an auto thief."
Public education and law enforcement crackdowns appear to be working -- especially against auto theft.
Thefts have dropped by 70 percent statewide since the creation in 1991 of what is now the Texas Automobile Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, which collects and uses fees on auto insurance policies to fund local task force operations.
The decline has been steeper in Tarrant County -- nearly 75 percent -- with thefts dropping from 19,411 to 4,917.
The Arlington Police Department, which kicked off its second annual "Remove It Or Lose It" campaign against car burglaries last month, reported a 17 percent decline from June 2009 to June 2010.
Car burglaries dropped from 629 to 517 during the period.
The authority funds North Texas task forces run by Tarrant County, Dallas County, the Dallas Police Department and the University of North Texas.
All four were represented at the Watch Your Car announcement at a news conference Wednesday at the Arlington Police Department.
Officials pointed out that some motorists are more likely to be victims simply because of the vehicles they own.
Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge pickups are the three most popular targets. Rounding out the top 10 are: Chevrolet Tahoe, Honda Civic, Honda Accord, GMC pickup, Toyota Camry, Ford Taurus and Chevrolet Impala.
Authorities are seeing an increase in thefts of heavy-duty pickups by organized criminal gangs, Pedersen said. "They like to use them to transport narcotics," he said.
Thieves are increasingly using tow trucks to snatch cars left beside highways and in apartment parking lots.
Custom wheels and removable third-row seats are becoming more popular among thieves. And more are using websites to sell stolen cars, motorcycles and parts, officials said.
Pedersen recommends that shoppers on these websites report vehicle prices that seem too good to be true.
"A lot of people don't act on their good intuition," he said. "They're blinded by a good deal."