Police nicking keys from defrosting cars could be breaking the law

Police who are snatching keys out of defrosting cars left with keys in the ignition (as a warning to drivers about tempting thieves) may be breaking the law themselves.

West Midlands Police are mounting special ‘frost jacking’ patrols after 50 cars were reported stolen while the drivers warmed them up in freezing conditions.

In some cases, the police are reaching in to vehicles or opening the doors to take the keys out to alert the motorists to the risk of theft.

They are also warning that the car owners may not have insurance protection if they leave their keys in the vehicle. But police officers may not have the power to enter the vehicles without a warrant even to prevent crime 

As their action may also invalidate a driver’s insurance, if the vehicle is damaged or possessions go missing as a result of their action, the question of who pays also lurks in the background.

Chief Superintendent Jon Hesketh, from West Midlands Police, told the local Birmingham Post newspaper: “People think it’s fine to leave cars unattended for just a moment, but a moment is all it takes for the car to be stolen. Opportunist thieves are aware cars will be left unlocked to warm up and they will take your car if given chance.”

Earlier this year, police in Exeter entered unattended homes to alert the owners to the risks of leaving their doors and windows open as an invitation to burglars – and they had to stop the crime prevention operation and apologise to homeowners after lawyers pointed out that they had no power to enter private homes without a warrant, even if the doors and windows were open.

Lawyers pointed out that this was trespass and police could be sued.

Although The Insurance Blogger welcomes any initiative that stops crime, sometimes organisations like the police fail to think through the consequences of their actions.

Rather than taking the keys, officers could leave a ‘you’ve been nicked’ card or flyer under the windscreen that would push the message home just as forcefully.

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