A new policy implemented by the Butte County sheriff mandates deputies no longer leave keys inside patrol vehicles.
It comes after a sheriff's vehicle was stolen Monday night from the Sheriff Office's parking lot. The theft led to a 30 mile chase through two counties and lasted about 45 minutes.
The new policy is designed change habits deputies have grown accustomed to. Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the suspect was released from the jail moments before the theft.
Honea said his deputies are not to leave the keys inside patrol vehicles unless they have a K-9 unit with them.
“I don't believe that will have a significant impact on public safety because it's just the matter of a couple of seconds in order to do that,” he said.
The change was made because of 39-year-old Omar Cazaraes. Deputies said he stole a Butte County Sheriff's SUV with a rifle inside around 7:30 p.m. Monday from the parking lot of the sheriff's station.
“The vehicle was locked and not running but at that point Mr. Cazares apparently obtained a rock and began to bang on the driver side window of the vehicle,” said Honea.
Honea said his deputies normally carry two sets of keys, and leave one set inside and lock the vehicle with the other set from the outside.
“I guess it was lulled into a false sense of security that it being parked in front of the Sheriff's Office, it being a patrol vehicle it would unlikely be a target,” he added.
The pursuit went to Highway 99 then headed south reaching speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Spike strips were used in Gridley and in Live Oak. Cazares hit a third set near Encinal Road.
“He got onto our radio and inquired is how to unlock the rifle,” said Honea. “Of course we weren't going to tell him that. There is no indication that he was able to do that.”
Officers released a K-9 unit because of the possibility Cazares was armed. A Taser was also used on him. Cazares was taken to the hospital then back to the Butte County jail.
“I think the lesson here for everyone, any vehicle can be a target of theft it's always good to make sure your vehicle is locked and the keys are accessible,” Honea said.
Honea said a 10-year veteran deputy was in charge of the vehicle at the time. His name has not been released but an internal investigation is underway to see if disciplinary action is necessary.
The total cost in damage was around $700.