Miami PD Auto Theft Unit Eliminated; Agents Predict Higher Policy Rates, Increased Claims

August 23, 2005

Insurance agents in Miami and Dade County were dismayed to discover this morning that, “due to manpower shortages” the Miami Police Department has disbanded its Auto Theft Unit. A PD spokesman told the Miami Herald that the situation is temporary and insist they will still investigate auto theft in Miami, which has the state’s third-largest volume in auto theft, even when the auto theft Unit was in full operation.

“Miami has always been considered a high-risk area for auto theft, so I would think the elimination of the Miami Police Department Auto Theft Unit would have a major detrimental affect on the insurance industry here,” Enrique Ruiz, president of the Latin American Association of Insurance Agencies in Miami said.

Ruiz pointed out that every time an insurance company wants to file for new rates, they have to file a request with the Department of Insurance Regulations. He said this is something that insurance companies are going to have to look at very closely and make adjustments to reflect the lack of support from local authorities for recovery.

“What genius came up with that plan?” asked Dulce M. Suarez-Resnick, former LAAIA president. “How can they do this, it just doesn’t make any sense.

“Most of the citizens in Miami and Dade County are already complaining about how their property taxes are going through the roof, but the city is still cutting services? And, how can Miami eliminate such an important service!”

Suarez-Resnick predicts the elimination of the Fraud Unit will dramatically push up the cost of auto insurance premiums in Miami and Dade County.

Suarez-Resnick pointed out that in the past a lot of insurance company security departments have worked closely with the Miami Police Department to find perpetrators and arrest the people involved in major theft rings.

“Do they have any idea what impact this might have?” she asked. “Thieves watch television and read the newspapers–they are going to view this as an opportunity.”

Suarez-Resnick said Dade County has the highest percentage of vehicle theft.

“We know how thieves operate, they steal a car, they park it to see if it has LoJack or a similar tracking system—and the minute the car cools off, if no one finds the car, it goes straight into one of those containers and across the sea,” she said.

“Up to now there has been a strong partnership between insurance companies, the Miami Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to recover such vehicles. By getting these cars back, the insurance company recoups some of the money they put out. If insurance companies do not have the assistance of police departments in discouraging such thefts, you are going to see auto insurance premiums go through the roof.”

The Herald report said members of the auto theft detail, a group of detectives who specifically target car thieves, have been reassigned to domestic violence and economic crimes.

“Even with the temporary reduction on that unit . . . I don’t think the public is going to be impacted,” Angel Calzadilla, executive assistant to Police Chief John Timoney told the Herald.

Calzadilla stressed the cuts are temporary, and said the special team will be back as soon as the department can make enough new hires. Calzadilla could not say exactly when that would be. The unit has so far been inactive for several weeks.

Calzadilla cited two grand theft auto arrests made on Sunday as evidence that crimes would not go unpunished in the absence of a special auto-theft unit.

“When you have so many people leaving the department, something has to be wrong,” said Commissioner Angel Gonzalez, who at times has been critical of the police chief. “A big department like the city of Miami Police Department, and they don’t have an auto theft unit? That’s ridiculous.”

Gonzalez said he’s fielded complaints from constituents for weeks, including allegations that auto theft victims who phoned the city department were instructed to contact the county police force instead.

Calzadilla called that claim preposterous.

He said that initial auto-theft complaints are fielded by patrol officers, who write up reports and pass the information to detectives. “Under no circumstances would we tell a city of Miami resident, whose car was stolen in Miami, to call the county,” Calzadilla said.

An e-mail circulated within the Miami Police Department instructs officers that “any person calling with a problem will not be brushed off by saying we no longer have an Auto Theft Unit. We will assist them as much as possible, though our investigation of Auto Theft cases has been temporarily suspended.”

The city was forced to ask its auto theft specialists to juggle extra duties, Calzadilla said, because the department–like many across the country–is suffering from manpower shortages.

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