With dwindling resources, fewer officers on the street, and police enforcement going from proactive to reactive, the news that vehicle theft is on the rise isn’t a shocker to those on the front line.
According to Oakdale Police Chief Marty West, the newest StanCATT (Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force) statistics show vehicle theft is up 12 percent in Oakdale, whereas in other areas of the county, theft is down.
Theories to the cause run the gamut from blame placed on the sickly economy creating a perfect storm of poverty and lower resources, to the District Attorney’s office not handing out stiffer penalties, but the true reason might be an amalgam of everything.
“People aren’t getting as much time as they used to for these types of crime and with the prison systems kicking people out to do their time in county, it seems like crimes like vehicle theft are not as important,” Oakdale Police Department Sgt. Kerri Redd said of the problem.
Tell that to the person whose car or truck just got boosted.
Of course, the most commonly stolen cars remain Hondas and Toyotas but it would seem nothing is safe as criminals look for easy marks.
Last week, a Kia was stolen from the parking lot at Bank of America. The car had been parked for 10 minutes when it was taken in broad daylight.
In another attempt to make a dent in vehicle theft, Operation Hot Wheels, a collaborative effort between local police, State Parole and the Stanislaus County Probation Department, paid a visit to known car thieves currently on parole or probation. They recovered five stolen vehicles and nabbed two Oakdale men on charges of drugs and stolen property.
“We found property in one of the stolen cars from a case that happened a year ago,” Redd said. “We were happy we were able to get two people off the street.”
But, judging by the numbers, it’s a drop in a very large bucket.
Although the stolen vehicle thefts are on par with last year’s numbers for the same time period (January-October), vehicle burglary has skyrocketed.
“Last year we had 27 reported vehicle burglaries; this year we’ve had 64,” Redd said. “And the number could be a lot higher. A lot of people don’t think to report the less serious thefts, like when people leave their vehicles unlocked and their loose change was stolen or their CDs.”
Thus far, there have been 82 vehicle thefts with 46 recoveries; last year, there were 83 vehicle thefts with 48 recoveries.
Most stolen cars are taken and then dumped shortly after; some are found torched. And some cars are taken and stripped for parts, depending on the make and model.
In an effort to stem the tide as the holidays approach — when vehicle burglary incidents really start to climb — officers have been patrolling in high-crime areas.
“We had two drive-by shootings last week,” Redd said. “We’re trying to be highly visible in gang territory. It’s really sad that we have to do this to keep people safe.”
And while there will always be the familiar faces committing the same crimes, which makes it easier to apply directed enforcement, Redd said there’s a fresh influx of the criminally-minded.
“Some players are out there doing the same thing, over and over, but there are some new faces out there,” Redd said.
The only way to affect vehicle theft and vehicle burglary is to make it difficult or troublesome for thieves to commit the crime.
“It’s common sense, really, but people seem to forget: lock your vehicle at night. We have people who walk from neighborhood to neighborhood at night looking for unlocked vehicles. That’s all they do. And don’t leave your valuables in the car. Don’t even leave a bag in your car. A thief will break into your vehicle without even knowing what’s in that bag, just so he can see if it’s valuable,” Redd advised. “When they look in vehicle windows, they’re looking to see what they can steal.”
If you’ve been the victim of vehicle theft or vehicle burglary, call the police at 209-847-2231.