The drug epidemic and absent-minded motorists are driving up the number of motor vehicle thefts in Louisville, police say.

From January through November, motor vehicle thefts increased 33 percent compared with the same period in 2014, police data show. That follows an increase of just more than 9 percent in 2014 over 2013.

Nearly 2,800 motor vehicle thefts were reported across Louisville Metro Police’s jurisdiction in 2015, adding up to a rate of about 408 motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents, according to the data.

A range of variables contributed to the surge in vehicle thefts, said Sgt. Todd Brimm of LMPD’s Seventh Division. Some thefts are caused by people looking to cash in stolen vehicles as a way to fuel a drug habit, he said. Other times, thefts stem from young people jockeying for a joyride, he said.

“Which is dangerous because you have a young, inexperienced driver,” he said.

But car owners have played a role in the spike, too. “People are simply leaving vehicles running and unattended,” Brimm said.

He said motor vehicle thieves sometimes engage in “puffing” — casing a neighborhood in cold weather in search of idle vehicles emitting exhaust.

As to what happens to vehicles once they’re stolen, Brimm said it’s difficult to say.

Brimm said motor vehicle thefts is a crime that can be greatly reduced if residents don’t leave their vehicles running unattended.

“It’s something we have to be committed to,” he said.

Louisville’s number of car thefts has trended higher than the national average in recent years.

The 2014 national rate of motor vehicle thefts was nearly half Louisville’s, at 216 per 100,000 residents, according to FBI data. In Louisville, the rate was 309 thefts per 100,000 residents from January to November 2014, local police data show.

Regarding metropolitan service areas — which for Louisville includes more than 10 surrounding counties — the 2014 motor vehicle theft rate per 100,000 residents was higher than both the Nashville and Charlotte metro areas, the FBI data show. It was lower than Indianapolis and Tulsa.

Jacob Ryan is the Metro Affairs reporter for WFPL.