LANHAM, Md. — A stunning increase in a harrowing crime has Prince George's police sounding the alarm.
So-called "jump-in" car thefts are up nearly 400% in the county during 2020. And one last Thursday nearly ended in tragedy.
There's no audio on the surveillance video supplied by police, but you can imagine the anguished mother's screams.
Police said she stepped briefly went inside to the Sunoco market and gas station in Lanham last Thursday, leaving her car running and unlocked out front, with her 9-month-old inside of the vehicle.
In the video, you can see two young men climb into the car and start backing out. The mom bangs on the hood, but the teens keep going, nearly pinning her against another car, the baby still inside. The mother yanks on the door, but the teens drove off.
Police said the teens dumped the baby unattended on the side of the road.
"That baby was not left in the custody of any person. The baby was just left on the side of the road," said Lt. Jordan Swonger of the Prince George's County Police.
Investigators think they've identified the juveniles, and said they're applying for abduction and auto theft charges against them, but declined to release their names or clear images of their faces.
Police said so far this year, victims have reported 286 of these "jump-in" car thefts, just in Prince George's County. That's up a startling 362% from the same time in 2019. They said It can happen outside a business or a home. Detectives said they locate only about half the stolen cars.
"I take my purse, I lock my car. Everything. The works," said Frankie Dudley, who was pumping gas outside the convenience store on Thursday.
"Take your baby out of the car. Lots of crazy people around these days," said another shopper keeping a watchful eye on a toddler.
Police said the suspects in the cases are not just teens. Earlier in August, they said Patrick Alfred, 57, calmly climbed into a car that a man left running outside a liquor store, and drove away.
Police said cars are often stolen to give the thieves disposable wheels to commit another crime. So leaving your car unlocked and running could leave both you and other people in the community vulnerable.
The message is pretty clear. Lock your car and take your keys, even if you're only going to be gone for a sec.