Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino calls attention to a car looting spree taking place throughout Westchester, April 20, 2017. The DA released surveillance video of unlocked cars being entered in Bedford, New Castle and Scarsdale.
Ricky Flores/lohud

Residents can help stop a crime spree spreading through Westchester County by taking one simple step, officials said: Lock your cars.

Westchester District Attorney Anthony Scarpino said thefts of unlocked cars have been on the rise recently, with thieves stealing items from cars or even driving away with the cars themselves.

It’s a problem affecting the cities and suburbs alike, he said.

“It’s all over the county. I think it’s gotten to the point now where we feel it is almost become an epidemic,” Scarpino said at his office this morning.

There were 682 vehicles stolen in Westchester last year, and 174 have already been swiped in 2017, he said. At least one-third of recent car thefts involved owners leaving the keys in the parked, unlocked cars, Scarpino said.

“(Such thefts) can easily be prevented simply by locking your vehicle,” he said.

Many more cars are rummaged through, Scarpino said, estimating that for every car that’s stolen with a key, at least six others are entered and searched for property.

Items such as computers, cell phones, loose change and sunglasses are often prime targets, he said.

The district attorney released surveillance video of unlocked cars being entered in Bedford, New Castle and Scarsdale.

Most stolen cars are recovered in southern Westchester or the Bronx, Scarpino said, but they’re taken from all over the county.

“I believe in some parts of northern Westchester they just may feel it is safer,” he said. “In the city, everybody is aware that this could happen.”

Scarpino said the culprits are often 16 to 18 years old, and usually inexperienced or unlicensed drivers. Criminals sometimes use stolen cars to commit other crimes, he said, and typically sell stolen items for profit.

There have been 15 recent arrests in the area for car-related thefts, Scarpino said.

“These are young people,” he said. “They’re like in a candy store. It’s a crime of opportunity and they’re going to take advantage of it.”

There is nothing that can completely prevent car thefts, Scarpino said, but there are simple ways to take help thwart those attempts. Thieves commonly move on if a car door is locked, he said, so locking up is the first step.

“They are looking for cars that are unlocked,” Scarpino said. “We can stop this.”

Scarpino added these tips for discouraging car thieves:

Twitter: @MattSpillane