New Pandemic Threat targeting food delivery drivers

Cincinnati police are warning the community about a concerning trend involving stolen cars.

Auto thefts citywide increased throughout 2020, and the statistics remain high in 2021.

“In fact, we’re having dozens stolen in a day,” said Sgt. Eric Franz. “What we saw was last year when it got warmer, normally these types of thefts go away or they’re greatly reduced. It never stopped.”

Investigators have found evidence that a new trend is emerging. Police say there is an increase in food delivery drivers, who are picking up food orders, returning to their car to find it’s been stolen.

In many cases, the cars were left running with the keys in them.

District five is being hit especially hard.

“It’s definitely a strain on the department,” said Lt. David Sprague, the commander of district five’s investigative unit. “It’s significantly higher, especially in the CUF neighborhood.”

CUF stands for Clifton Heights, University Heights and Fairview, popular areas for college students with a plethora of restaurants. They are also popular locations where delivery drivers for popular apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grub Hub can make good money picking up food for deliveries.

“We’ve seen a concentration in the Calhoun and McMillan Street area where food delivery drivers pull up and go in and get a food order,” Sprague said. “We’ve seen an increase, a pretty significant increase, in auto thefts. And the flip side of the coin, we’ve seen a significant decrease in burglaries in the same area. So I think with people being at home, not wanting to go out with the pandemic, they’ve been ordering more food and utilizing that service more.”

Data from the Cincinnati police department shows car thefts involving keys left in the vehicle for the month of January in the CUF neighborhood. Fourteen of the 22 victims were drivers picking up food orders. The hardest-hit streets were Calhoun, West McMillan and Short Vine.

Sprague said in district five, car thefts were up 80 percent in January 2021, compared to last January. Compared to the three-year average, it is an increase of 127 percent.

In 2018, the median number of car thefts in the CUF neighborhood was three. The median in 2019 was seven. The median in 2020 was 10.5.

In 2018, the highest number of car thefts in a single month was 12. The highest number of car thefts in a single month in 2019 was 11. The highest number of car thefts in a single month in 2020 was 22.

“I think a lot of this has just been joy rides, they get tired of it, they drop it in a parking lot and then they move on,” Sprague said.

We spoke with a local DoorDash driver who asked only to be identified by his first name, Chris. He started delivering for the company during the pandemic due to the app’s growing popularity.

“Whenever I go to pick up an order, no matter where I am, I always lock my car up for sure because I don’t want anybody to take my car,” he said. “It’s word of mouth on the street when you’re going in and out of different stores. Different dashers, we wait for our orders, so we talk about what’s going on and that’s something that has been happening a lot, particularly around Clifton.”

He admits, when the weather is cold, he’s been tempted to leave his car running but ultimately decides to keep it locked up.

“I would much rather just start back up when I get out than come out and not have a vehicle,” he said. “Kinda hard to DoorDash on the bus.”

Full Story: Cincinnati police warn of pandemic trend targeting food delivery drivers

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