Police in Tulsa, Okla., say that a 30 percent drop in auto thefts last year is largely due to officers targeting thieves who snatch cars to make quick cash from scrap metal.
Roughly 2,500 vehicles were reported stolen in 2008, a decrease of about 1,300 from 2007. The decrease was so steep it apparently drove down the overall crime rate for 2008, according to preliminary numbers.
The auto-theft statistics are based on a Tulsa World review of preliminary Tulsa police crime data. Official crime figures are due to be released later this month.
Detectives noted a significant increase in auto thefts in the summer of 2007, when the number of vehicle thefts passed the 400 mark in June, July and August of that year.
“Our auto-theft detectives did some analysis of the auto-theft problem and where we were recovering our stolen vehicles, and what we determined was that a lot of our stolen cars were basically being taken to crushers and being recycled,” Officer Jason Willingham said.
If a car is 10 years old or older, the law does not require that a title be presented to have it crushed at a salvage yard, he said.
“There are some requirements taking a VIN number down and a photo ID, but aside from that there are not a whole lot of requirements,” Willingham said. “What we determined was that suspects were stealing cars over 10 years old and were basically trading them in for cash.”
Police audited records at area crushers and found that many stolen vehicles had been sold to them. At that time, the thieves were getting about $300 per car, Willingham said.
Police sought warrants based on those records and began aggressively enforcing traffic laws near those businesses. Through those efforts, they recovered more stolen vehicles and made more arrests.
“It didn’t take long for the word to get out, ‘Hey, this isn’t a freebie anymore. The police are watching,”‘ Willingham said.
After police targeted the thieves who were having cars crushed, the auto-theft rate dropped to an average of about 200 a month in 2008.
Police are reviewing the reports that were filed in 2008 to categorize them based on national Uniform Crime Reporting standards. Once unfounded cases are removed, the numbers likely will change somewhat.
A reduction in auto theft helps everyone, even those who have not been victims, Willingham said.
“When auto-theft rates are high, that has a direct result on the insurance premiums that you and I pay,” he said.
Police have also worked with prosecutors to see that the cases against people who are arrested for the thefts are followed through.
“Auto-theft suspects typically are repeat offenders. We know they are in the business to continue to steal,” Willingham said.
Records show that large apartment complexes or shopping centers are often hot spots for auto thefts.
Police sometimes park “bait cars” that contain global positioning systems in auto-theft hot spots, Willingham said. When they are stolen, police follow them and arrest the thieves.
“Knowing those bait cars are out there might have some sort of psychological effect on the car thieves,” Willingham said.
Police recover about 82 percent of the cars stolen in Tulsa, Willingham said.
Information from: Tulsa World, www.tulsaworld.com
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