Sharing 1,250 miles of border with Mexico makes Texas an inviting target for auto thieves, which is why 12 years ago the state legislature voted to slap a $1 surcharge on all auto insurance policies to fund the Texas Auto Theft Prevention Authority (TAPTA).
Since it was instituted in 1991, TAPTA has given out 406 grants totaling $149 million to fund local initiatives to prosecute auto thieves, beef up auto crimes police units and raise public awareness about how to protect against auto theft. Now, thanks to the state’s $9 billion budget deficit – and despite an impressive record of helping to reduce auto thefts in Texas by over 50 percent – TAPTA’s budget has been reduced by 34 percent to $10.4 million for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, according to a spokeswoman for the program.
“This is not at all a reflection on the effectiveness of our agency,”
said Anna Mallett, TAPTA’s public affairs coordinator. “We felt it was very fair. It was a standard, across-the-board cut. Many agencies were dissolved altogether, and most others were cut around 30 percent, due to budgetary reasons.”
There are about 17 million registered vehicles in Texas, and although
estimates vary as to how many are unisured that number roughly indicates how much money the state is collecting through the $1 surcharge and using for other purposes.
While TAPTA boasts of a 51 percent reduction in motor vehicle thefts since 1991 – the agency did not begin distributing grants until 1993 – the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports show that auto thefts dropped by 26 percent across the country from 1991 to 2001. Property crimes of all types experienced a vast decrease nationally from 1992 to 2001. Robberies were down 37.1 percent and burglaries dropped by 29.2 percent.
In 1991, Texas’s rate of stolen vehicles per 100,000 registered vehicles was 1,175.8 and by 2001 it was down to 579.4. Mallett admits that the booming economy of the 1990s helped reduce the rate of auto thefts in Texas, and attributes the 0.1 percent increase in thefts to 102,943 in 2002 over the previous year to the jobless economic recovery.
“Basically in the last few years the reason we attribute to this
increase is that this is an economic crime,” Mallett said. “The increase in population means an increase in the number of registered vehicles. Texas has 21 million residents now. This year we’ve had some funding cuts and we’ve lost a little bit, personnel-wise. We do the best we can but the economy really impacts this.”
The volume of thefts was higher because of increased population,
according to a statement by TAPTA Board Chairman Mac Tristan, but, “the rate of theft reduced to 482.2 vehicles stolen per 100,000 population. The rate of theft has not been this low since 1979.”
In a 1999 study for the National Center for Policy Analysis, a
Dallas-based conservative think tank, economist Morgan Reynolds attributed Texas’ success in reducing crime to the steady rise in a criminal’s “expected punishment” in the Lone Star State.
Editor’s Note: To see the full story, see the Oct. 20 issue of Insurance Journal Texas/South Central, page 8.
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