Locks key to car and child theft prevention

"If you love something, set it free" sounds nice in theory, but in practice can lead to disaster.

If you don't believe me, try it the next time you are pet-sitting a friend's parakeet, goldfish or 18-foot emotional support anaconda.

People must really love their cars because they're constantly releasing them to the wild.

Not long ago I saw a woman pull into a convenience store to get gas, walk inside to pay and leave her keys in the ignition. An enterprising youth set her ride free in seconds.

It happened again Tuesday morning when car thieves (plural) targeted a day care center . The victims? Two moms who left their unlocked cars running when they went inside, including one who had a 6-year-old kid in her back seat.

The thieves released the child and it walked back to the day care center unharmed, police say. The vehicle containing the child, a Hyundai Santa Fe, was located about a mile away.

A Georgia State Patrol trooper pulled over the second stolen car, a Chrysler 300, Wednesday morning near Confederate Avenue in DeKalb County, Clayton County police said. Two people in the Chrysler were being questioned.

Car theft keeps police, and juvenile courts, busy.

There were 26,361 car thefts reported in Georgia in 2016, the most recent year of Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime data .

There were 1,642 arrests that year, which indicates about 6 percent of car thefts results in arrests. The percentage of convictions would be even lower.

Georgia law says  no one under 13 can be convicted of a crimebut I figure you have to be at least that old to see over the dashboard. Still, an amazing 30 percent of those arrested for auto theft in Georgia in 2016 were considered juveniles, according to the GBI data. Twenty-three percent were 16 or younger, meaning they were probably stealing cars without a valid driver's license.

How often do car thieves steal running cars? Good question, but the numbers are difficult to find. Half of all cars reported stolen in January 2017 were left running , say Columbus police.

Lt. Tom Reimers with Clayton County's major theft unit said he didn't have info on how often it happens in his jurisdiction, but "even if it happens once, it's happening too often."

It's happened at least twice in Clayton County this year.  In January, a running vehicle was stolen from a Riverdale Road QuickTrip with two children inside. The 4-year-old girl in the car was soon found walking near I-285 in 20 degree weather. The 1-month-old girl was found about two hours later in the middle of South Fulton Parkway still strapped in her car seat. The SUV was found on Metropolitan Parkway.

Two young suspects were arrested on kidnapping and theft charges Jan. 19.

Police did not identify a 16-year-old juvenile.

Khyree Swift, 17, was denied bond and currently resides in the Clayton County jail behind doors as locked as your car's should be.

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