A campaign that hopes to deter drivers from leaving unattended vehicles running in cold weather kicked off in Calgary on Monday and police say the initiative is making a difference.

Operation Cold Start is in its third year and the program was started to deal with the high number of vehicles that are left unlocked and running in driveways and on city streets in the winter.

“So a lot of people have the impression that they live in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood, but what we’re seeing is criminals capitalizing on that and looking throughout the city for opportunities to find vehicles running in driveways and on curbs and stuff so it can happen anywhere,” said Sergeant Graeme Smiley of the CPS District Support Unit. “It’s a significant issue because what happens beyond the theft itself is, of course, criminals operating these vehicles dangerously throughout our city so it is really a community safety threat in that regard.”

From now until February 1, officers will be out in the community looking for vehicles that have been left running and unattended. They will use the opportunity to talk to the driver about the dangers associated with vehicle theft.

"So we’re going to be out every morning this week throughout multiple neighbourhoods in the city and what we do is target the neighbourhoods where we see, we’ve recently seen an uptake on the number of thefts and have our officers go door-to-door there. We put out our sandwich boards and let people know and through media partners, get the word out to the community that this is a significant issue in our city.” said Smiley. “What we’re doing is trying to encourage people to essentially break habits. To understand that leaving your vehicle running in the cold weather to warm up in the morning, we’re seeing a significant increase in the amount of vehicle thefts as a result of that."

Last year, almost 6000 passenger vehicles were stolen in the city and police say many of the thefts were preventable.

“I think that every contact that we make with a citizen, we are making an impact and through programs like the door-to-door with the officers, but also through social media. We’ve posted a video recently, which demonstrated how simple it is from an actual theft occurring in a quiet, suburban neighbourhood, so we think that people when they see that, it makes them think twice about their morning habits,” said Smiley. “Beyond that, we’re encouraging people to, obviously, use what’s available to them in terms of anti-theft devices and or remote car starters that are going to keep their vehicle locked in the morning.”

Tips for warming up your vehicle in the winter:

  • Never leave a running vehicle unattended, if the keys are inside the vehicle or if the vehicle has been started with a keyless ignition or push-button start.
  • Use a remote starter whenever possible and keep your vehicle locked.
  • Use a steering wheel lock to deter thieves.
  • Never leave spare keys or garage door openers in or around your vehicle.
  • Never leave children or pets in a running vehicle.
  • Do not leave valuables, including identity documents and bank cards, in a vehicle.
  • Report suspicious activity to police immediately by calling 403-266-1234 or 9-1-1 for crimes in progress.

Smiley says the program is working but it's about breaking the habit.

“To some degree, yes. What we see is, very much habit breaking so we introduced a program in the summer time, called the 9PM routine, to have people understand that, in the summer, we’re looking for people to close their garage doors, close their windows and get into a routine in the evening and essentially what we’re trying to do today is talk about a morning routine and break habits, I suppose, for people.”

Police will share daily stats from the initiative on the service’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.