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GPS units popular in Kirkland — among drivers and thieves alike

The latest must-have for area drivers has turned out to be just as popular among car prowlers, the Kirkland Police Department said.

As of May 23, the department has logged 264 car break-ins or “car prowls.” The number represents a 58-percent increase from the same time period last year. Kirkland police crime analyst Kristina Shull said GPS systems are one of the primary reasons behind the spike.

“GPS units seem to be the new ‘it’ item for car prowlers,” she said.

Since the beginning of the year, thieves have taken 65 GPS units from cars in Kirkland. Noting that a number of the vehicles had been left unlocked, Shull said residents should take precautions such as removing valuables from open view when they leave their vehicle.

Police said a skilled thief can, on average, enter a vehicle and remove valuables in less than two minutes.

The popularity of the devices isn’t limited to Kirkland. In 2007, Redmond saw a 360-percent jump in the number of crimes related to GPS-system theft.

One of the major manufacturers of the type of GPS units targeted by prowlers is Garmin, a Kansas-based company. Company spokesman Jake Jacobson said the portable units, which are approximately the size of a deck of cards, should be removed from the vehicle after use.

“We try to educate our customers that common sense rules the day,” he said. “You shouldn’t leave expensive electronics lying on your dashboard.”

Jacobson also cautioned GPS owners to wipe down any marks left on the windshield or dashboard by suction cups.

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