COMMERCE CITY - During cold snaps like the one on Tuesday, it may be tempting to warm up your car by leaving it running with the keys in the ignition.
It's called puffing. Not only is it illegal -on public streets - it also makes you a target for car thieves. The puffing law does not apply to cars parked on private property.
The East Metro Auto Theft Task Force caught 89 drivers puffing in Commerce City Tuesday morning. Officers also recovered a stolen trailer. Drivers received warnings and first-time puffers were not ticketed.
Commerce City Police officer Tom Poe says snowy days are the perfect opportunity for car thieves. Poe says on cold winter mornings, two things are guaranteed.
"Traffic accidents, and people leaving their vehicles running unattended - puffers," Poe said.
The term "puffing" was coined by car thieves who scour snowy streets looking for exhaust puffing out of the tailpipes of empty cars.
"Somebody could just come up, get inside your vehicle and then steal it," Poe said.
Officers with the East Metro Auto Theft Task Force gathered at 5 a.m. Tuesday. Task Force Commander Lt. Lee Condreay says Puffer Week is about educating drivers on the fact of about half of all stolen cars still have the keys inside.
"Stay with your car and don't take the chance. It's simple for them to steal," Condreay said.
Puffing citations can cost you more than $100. The losses from 9,300 car thefts in Colorado in 2011 totaled more than $57 million.
Commerce City resident Javier Alonzo says he learned his lesson and won't be puffing again.
"Because I don't want this to happen, and they can steal it," Alonzo said.
As anti-theft technology improves, car thefts are dropping each year. Police hope puffer patrols will keep it that way. Police say the bottom line is if you want to warm up your car and you have the key in the ignition, you need to be with your car. You don't want the police showing up or, even worse, a car thief.
If your car has a remote starter, puffing is legal because anti-theft technology prevents a thief from driving off without the key.
On Wednesday, the East Metro Auto Theft Task Force will head to Aurora, where at least one auto theft Tuesday morning was the direct result of puffing.
In a similar patrol two weeks ago, Aurora Police issued 142 warnings for puffing, 46 puffing citations and recovered two stolen cars.
For more information on how to protect your car, visit the Coloradans Against Auto Theft website, http://lockdownyourcar.org/.
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