Robert Beasley, serving time in what is believed to be the world's largest prison in Jackson, Mich., is a thief. And people who leave their cars unlocked have encouraged him.

"You'd be amazed how easy people make it for you. I've stolen - been given really is a better term - cars that had the keys right in the switch," said Beasley in an anti-car theft brochure he wrote for a national insurance company.Individuals like Beasley are not only rampant in metropolitan areas, but they are combing the parking lots at Utah County malls, hospitals, churches and streets in residential areas, local law enforcement officials say.

Utah County has recently been plagued by an increasing number of auto burglaries, thefts and larceny, and police agencies are concerned that residents are practically inviting criminals to take their property.

Orem Police spokesman Gerald Nielsen can quickly come up with supporting examples and has to go no further back in time than a single day last week.

While cooling off at the SCERA swimming pool, a woman had her purse and $40 cash stolen - from her unlocked car. While his unlocked car was parked in his driveway, a man had his radar detector stolen. And yet another man lost not only belongings but his van as well - he had left it unlocked with the keys in the ignition.

Beasley's brochure warns that locking a car doesn't guarantee against theft, but by locking your car and taking the keys, you'll deter or at least hinder an initial attempt.

And what about the insurance companies? How do they feel about car burglaries and theft?

David Westover, vice president of Monson and Co., said the increase in auto burglaries over the past several years has resulted in companies not worrying about stolen goods anymore.

"It was such a problem, companies now exclude anything that isn't factory installed. When CBs first came out it was a real problem.

"What the public demands the public gets. . . . It seems apparent that the public doesn't care.

"If people leave their cars unlocked and property is available to be taken, then insurance companies are obliged to raise the insurance rates." But Westover said "insurance companies have a moral obligation to try to keep the rates down."

Just how inviting are some of the residents in Utah Valley? With cooperation from local law enforcement agencies, a recent informal walk-through of several parking lots revealed the many opportunities available for car thefts and auto burglaries.

Cars were considered unlocked if the windows were down enough to put a hand through or if the sunroof was open. Officers also noted that many times thieves will go to cars that have windshield sun guards in them because they usually mean the owners will be gone for a long time.

Of the 150 cars checked at University Mall, 33 percent were unlocked - one with dealer plates in the window, another with keys on the front seat, another with home stereo equipment and two business trucks containing at least $1,000 in tools each.

Video-store patrons pose more opportunities as they rush in for a "quick" return or rental. More than three-fourths of those monitored during a weekend night at two video stores in Orem left cars unlocked - some cars were left running.

Not only were cars left unlocked and valuables left on the seats, but many people had left small children, often to watch the car. Although usually meant as just a quick trip, the average time spent in the video store was seven minutes, enough time to lose everything in the unlocked car.

A casual walk-through of three Brigham Young University parking lots showed that of the 169 cars checked, nearly 60 percent were unlocked. Among items left in these cars were purses, keys, golf clubs, cameras, camping equipment, prescription drugs, money, credit cards, tools, blueprints and checkbooks.

One Salt Lake television station had its van wide open with more than $30,000 worth of mini-cams and other equipment available just for the grabbing. And a 1986 Porsche, valued at $38,000, was open with a purse on the seat.

In two church parking lots, 67 percent of cars checked were left unlocked - making church one of the best places to go for thieves contemplating breaking the eighth commandment.

At other locations, quick surveys found $5,000 worth of ski equipment, a car title, new tires, baby seats and other items valued at more than $50 - all within minutes of being potential stolen property.

A number of police agencies involved in the survey were surprised to find that the unlocked vehicles weren't just old cars. Some were new and expensive. The average cost of the 750 cars checked was $4,700.

Many of Utah County's cities find that their auto burglaries go in waves and are more prevalent at certain times of the year. "Right now our burglaries are relatively static," Springville Police Chief Leland Bowers said. "We get waves of burglaries, and quite a bit of them are from unlocked cars."

Provo detective George Pierpont said most auto burglaries are committed by juveniles, while car thefts are generally by those 18 and older. In Utah in 1986, 223.2 cars per 100,000 people were stolen. Ninety-five percent of the cars were unlocked with the keys inside.

Auto burglaries in Utah County cities

1986 1987 1988 (to July)

American Fork 52 54 23

Lehi n/a 32 16

Orem 408 466 267

Pleasant Grove 90 63 90

Provo 740 556 263

Spanish Fork 104 76 66

Springville 17 24 17

Note - Larceny theft from cars is included with other larceny crimes in yearly reports. However, most agencies reporting say that more than half of the larceny crime is vehicle-related.