Ohio Car Theft Victim Finds Alleged Chop Shop

June 14, 2010

A Cleveland man frustrated over the theft of his Honda Civic decided to track it down himself, and police say his search led to the bust of a car-theft ring and chop shop.

Twenty-year-old Christopher Bravo said he saw his car in a garage near one of the city’s police stations. Police showed up, and authorities said they found an abandoned home nearby that was full of car parts, arrested nine people and towed away six stolen Civics.

The bust was made by a department that has one officer assigned to the auto theft unit in a city where more than 4,000 cars were stolen last year. That’s down from 12 members six years ago.

The auto theft unit in Columbus has 20 assigned officers and a similar unit in Detroit has 35 officers.

Due to the high number of cars stolen in the city, Cleveland should have a fully staffed unit, said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said a crime analysis unit determines areas that have a high rate of car thefts. A task force of local and federal officers is investigating those areas.

“Just because we don’t have an auto theft unit doesn’t mean we don’t investigate these crimes,” he said.

Cities across the country are cutting back on the size of auto theft units due to budget concerns and having other squads handle investigations, said Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“The expertise is being diluted,” he said. “It’s an unfortunate sign of the times.”

Following Monday’s arrests, more than 15 patrol officers and detectives spent hours cataloging stolen cars and parts.

Bravo’s 1993 electric blue Civic was stolen from his home on May 20, about a month after he bought it. A backyard mechanic, he had invested about $5,000 in an engine.

He said he put the word out that the car was missing, and received a tip that led him to the garage where it was found – in dozens of pieces.

Bravo said he “was getting aggravated” when he went searching for his car and was shocked by the home with all the car parts.

“It looked like it had been going on forever,” he said.

Loomis said chop shops are hidden across the city.

“It goes unchecked in Cleveland until we stumble across them,” he said. “It’s horrifying.”

Information from: The Plain Dealer, http://www.cleveland.com

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