America’s car theft epidemic blamed on police officer shortages, soft-on-crime prosecutors

The variety of vehicles stolen within the U.S. in 2022 is anticipated to surpass a million for the primary time in historical past, shattering earlier data and leaving legislation enforcement struggling to maintain up.

Through the primary 9 months of 2022 greater than 745,000 automobiles have been stolen throughout the nation, in accordance with information from the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That’s the best variety of vehicles stolen throughout the first 9 months since 2008 and a 24% improve over pre-pandemic ranges, the NICB stated.

They estimated that the worth of the stolen automobiles this year exceeds $6.6 billion.

Police officers say the variety of stolen vehicles is definitely a lot greater than what’s being reported. Tom Weitzel, who not too long ago retired because the police chief within the Chicago suburb of Riverside, Illinois, stated auto theft costs are troublesome to show with out eyewitness or video proof of a suspect within the act of stealing a car. That leaves prosecutors to pursue lesser costs akin to felony trespassing.  

“Courts and prosecutors certainly don’t take auto thefts seriously. Unless it’s a carjacking, which is a separate charge, it’s not considered a crime of violence and the insurance companies pay the victim,” he stated. “That really skews the numbers both from prosecutors and the police, which are downplaying the crime because they know it won’t stick.”

But even when cops and courts are fudging numbers as Mr. Weitzel alleges, numbers in main cities throughout the nation are stunning.

Car thefts in Denver are up 15% in comparison with the identical interval final year and surged an astounding 178% in comparison with 2019 and 80% in comparison with 2020.

In New York City, car thefts surged 32% with 12,901 vehicles stolen by Dec. 11, in comparison with 9,757 by the identical interval final year.

Police in Memphis, Tennessee, say 9,600 auto thefts — a mean of roughly 30 thefts per day — have been reported over the primary 11 months of 2022. That’s additionally a 100% improve in comparison with the identical interval final year.

The state of affairs is so unhealthy in Memphis that police there are giving out a whole bunch of free wheel locks in an try and curb the pattern.

Motor car thefts in Chicago are up by roughly 100% by the primary 50 weeks of the year with 19,784 vehicles stolen in comparison with 9,933 by the identical interval final year.

Mr. Weitzel, who now advises police departments, stated Chicago’s auto theft surge has bled into the suburbs. He stated a whole bunch of vehicles are stolen per evening in Cook County, Illinois, the place Chicago is positioned.

“That’s never happened before. It’s such an epidemic,” he stated.

Since 1990, car thefts had trended downward each year within the 2010s. However, the rate of car thefts elevated each month since June 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic took maintain, in accordance with the NICB’s information.

Even extra irritating for police, auto thieves have gotten extra violent. Earlier this month, a car theft suspect in Denver shot a police officer within the neck throughout an arrest.

Unlike car thefts from earlier eras when stolen vehicles can be stripped for components, police say most thieves are utilizing the vehicles to commit different crimes after which abandoning them undamaged.

Betsy Brantner Smith, a spokeswoman for the National Police Association, stated the brand new technology may be overwhelmed. She stated the one option to finish the surge is for soft-on-crime prosecutors to pursue harsher car thieves penalties.

“If we were prosecuting like we used to, where someone did five-to-ten years in prison, people will stop doing it. That is one of the biggest crime problems overall. We don’t prosecute cases so people get punished. How does that stop you from doing what you are doing?”

Police additionally stated that police departments making an attempt to make do with fewer resources and fewer cops is an enormous a part of the issue. Many police departments have pulled cops from their auto theft models and reassigned them to analyze extra violent crimes.

The Washington State Patrol this month stated they’re pulling their 4 officers from a multi-agency activity power that targets car thefts as a result of they don’t have sufficient detectives to deal with different instances. Since 2017, these 4 detectives helped get well 921 stolen vehicles valued at greater than $13 million and make 241 arrests.

“We’ve got limited resources, and we’ve got significant responsibilities, and so we have to make continual adjustments as to how we deploy our resources so that we can meet those responsibilities. And I think that everyone would agree that responding to violent crime is, has to supersede it,” stated Chris Loftus, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol.

Through November there was a mean of 80 vehicles stolen a day in King and Pierce counties, the 2 jurisdictions patrolled by the duty power.

Police in Aurora, Colorado, pulled their officers from a statewide activity power that investigates car thefts, citing staffing shortages. Colorado has the best rate of auto theft within the nation, in accordance with statistics from the NICB. Auto thefts within the state are up 113% over the previous two years, in accordance with information from the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Task Theft Task Force.

Another issue driving the auto theft surge is the excessive worth of used vehicles, which has outpaced inflation. Supply-chain snarls, computer chip shortages, and pandemic-related shopping for sprees made new automobiles scarce and elevated the worth of used vehicles. As a outcome, extra intact automobiles are being bought on the black market, police stated. That’s very true of full-sized pickups and different vehicles.

Of specific curiosity to thieves, nowadays is a car’s catalytic converter, which might command as a lot as $250 for the valuable metals in it, together with platinum, palladium and rhodium.

Catalytic converter thefts had grow to be such an issue in Philadelphia that town council this month handed a invoice to curb the surge. The invoice prohibits the sale of partial catalytic converters and imposes a 90-day jail sentence for these convicted of stealing them.

Police additionally too many individuals are leaving their vehicles weak, creating an attractive alternative for thieves. Some drivers go away their key fob inside their car, whereas others take it and go away the car working. Other drivers have merely left their keys within the visor or cup holder.

Auto thieves are additionally changing into extra subtle, using the usage of technology to reprogram keyless vehicles to allow them to be opened with out damaging them.

Mr. Weitzel stated the keyless technology has made it a lot more durable to catch thieves.

“Police on patrol are trained to identify a stolen car by looking for a lot of damage, such as a smashed window, but if there is no damage the police won’t even notice it,” he stated.

Car producers are responding with biometric readers that require a scan of the car proprietor’s fingerprint or irises to start out the car. This technology, nevertheless, will not be but the norm.

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