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St. Charles tracking surge in 'crimes of convenience stores'

Watch a car theft happen in the time it takes for a driver to get their cup of coffee

ST CHARLES, Mo. — Here’s something that will make you think twice during your morning routine, especially if that routine includes leaving your car running while you go get your coffee.

In St. Charles, police said they’ve taken at least one call per week since the beginning of October after someone’s car was stolen while sitting idle at a convenience store.

All 11 crimes could have been prevented if the driver had shut off the engine and locked the vehicle when they went inside.

“You’re just creating that crime of opportunity and car thieves are quite well aware that if they stay in that parking lot long enough, they will eventually get a car to steal,” said Lieutenant Tom Wilkison of St. Charles police.

He shared with 5 On Your Side surveillance video showing a classic scenario in which a person can be seen parking their car and going inside the gas station, only for someone else to come out of the bushes, hop into the driver’s seat and get away.

Wilkison said this is not directly related to the cold temperatures, since it started before the cold set in and this happens even in the summer. They can’t be sure what specifically is causing the spike, but it’s a real reminder of how quickly people can become victims.

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“Most of them are actually very surprised because they don’t feel like they were in the store that long,” he said. “It happens literally in less than two minutes that your vehicle is driven off that lot, and you probably haven’t even picked out what you want to drink yet.”

Most of the cars have been recovered, abandoned around the St. Louis area after being taken for joy-rides or even used in other crimes. Wilkison said they’re often damaged, which might not be covered by insurance.

“Most of the convenience stores are located typically near a highway, so by the time you’re getting out of the store, walking out, discovering your car is stolen, that car’s already on the highway,” he said.

Even if a car is parked and the engine is off, Wilkison said it can also be a problem when people leave their keys or key-FOBs inside the vehicle, so make sure you bring that inside with you.

This also happens in driveways: a case in north St. Louis County earlier this week triggered a scare when it was first suspected a baby was inside the car.