Christmas shoppers have been warned to take extra steps to ensure they don't leave valuables in view of "travelling gangs" that are targeting vehicles, including those parked housing estates, in the rup-up to Christmas.
The force warned that €30.6m worth of items have been taken from vehicles over the past four years and that new figures from the Garda Analysis Service show that 46,582 vehicles were broken into since January 2016. Of those, 8,157 vehicles were reported to have been unlocked.
Gardai launching a new 'Park Smart' campaign also warned people who spot suspicious activity in their area to report it to the gardai first, rather than a "creeping" trend of simply posting about it on social media.
New figures show that of the 12,343 vehicles broken into outside homes over the past four years, 3,833 are reported to have been unlocked – almost one-third.
December is, along with August, the most popular month for targeted break-ins and garda analysis shows that the most common location for thefts are in driveways, and most often between 12midnight and 6am.
Crime Prevention Officer Sgt James O'Donovan, who is based in Bandon Garda Station, said the Co Cork area has recently been the target of such thefts, revealing that 37 instances occurred in just one five-day period in recent weeks, from Youghal to Innishannon and Macroom to Mallow.
"Unfortunately we are seeing a trend now where criminals are travelling into towns across the country and targeting estates," Sgt O'Donovan said.
"It's a problem across the country."
He said gardai wanted people to 'Park Smart', meaning parking in areas that are well lit and where possible, covered by CCTV cameras. He said motorists should ensure their cars are locked and that any valuables are kept out of view. He added that at nighttime any valuables should not be left in the car but rather be stored in a safe lock-up.
Sgt O'Donovan said it was a message that should be heeded by Christmas shoppers, who in the festive rush could leave items on view in their cars which could then be targeted by thieves, and worse, forget to lock their cars even when parked outside their own front door.
"What is happening now is criminals will go around areas like housing estates and streets where lots of cars are parked up and they will try every car door because they know we are leaving some of them unlocked," he said.
Garda figures show that the issue of car break-ins is nationwide, led by West Dublin which accounted for 12.4% (5,756) of cases in the past four years and Cork City accounting for 4.8% (2,249 cases) and Limerick 5% (2,329 cases).
The new garda campaign is also aimed at tradespeople who, because of their work, can have valuables such as tools in their vehicles.
John O'Donovan, a carpenter and tiler from Clonakilty in West Cork, had tools worth €3,500 stolen from his vehicle when thieves broke into his van while he attended a Saturday morning Safe Pass course in Cork City.
The 58-year-old said he had locked his car but when he returned at lunchtime he discovered someone had broken into it, stealing a number of high value items.
John said one mistake had been not making sure the tools were not visible through the back window in what was a case of "daylight robbery".
"It was devastating," he said, adding that he suspected someone attending the course was only there to scope out possible targets.
"I might have not worked for two days after from the shock."
Gardai said all items including tools can be marked, ideally with an eircode, so they can be traced back to their owners if stolen and Sgt O'Donovan said while community alert groups were very active, if people saw suspicious activity they should contact gardai immediately, rather than simply posting about it on social media, adding that people sometimes focussed on "likes" rather than alerting gardai.