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All car owners need to fight auto thefts
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2012 was not a year to be proud of in terms of Stanislaus County-wide auto theft statistics. From 2011 to 2012, the number of vehicles stolen increased by 23.3 percent, for a total of 4,122 stolen cars during the 2012! What is so alarming is that the state's prisoner early-release program and the consequences of the "realignment" program (the state's effort to push felony convicts onto local governments) had not yet fully manifested itself during 2012.

In fact, we in law enforcement believe that the full gravity of the problem has yet to come - which means that crime in general will continue to spike upwards. We should not be surprised if, as in the case of vehicle thefts, we continue to have annual percentage increase in crime by double digits in the next several years. What is happening now represents a major reversal of an ongoing general trend of annual reductions of auto thefts during the last seven or so years. I find it interesting that one of the spokespersons declared, in effect, that there could be no case made to link realignment and the prisoner release program to the dramatic increase in crime during 2012 and during January of this year. What the spokesperson was referring to is the notion of "cause and effect." That spokesperson is either living in fantasy land or, perhaps, imbibed a bit too much when they spoke of that nonsense.

In any event, every vehicle owner needs to be aware of the greatly increased chances that their car will be stolen by one of the many repeat offenders who now occupy our communities. It is a serious problem that will, at minimum, create an inconvenience for those with auto theft insurance and a major inconvenience for those without it. Many people simply cannot afford to replace a car that has been stolen, making it difficult to get to work, transport their children to school or doctor appointments, or even grocery shop.

Police know how bad the auto theft problem is becoming, so, accordingly, we are doing what we can to prevent the thefts in the first place and go after the known auto thieves. But clearly, the efforts of law enforcement are not enough. Car owners, as well as persons who own trucks, trailers, motorcycles, off road vehicles and even heavy equipment absolutely must take steps to make it hard for their vehicles to be stolen. These steps include to never leaving keys in the vehicle. Morning engine warm-ups are an invitation for theft, the use of steering wheel locks like "the Club," using ignition disablers, subscribing to services like OnStar and LoJack are also advisable, as well as using a high quality vehicle alarm system. Of course, neighbors should be aware of and willing to report suspicious persons and activities to our dispatch center by calling (209) 538-5712.

The auto theft problem will not abate anytime soon, but much can be done to make it more difficult for thieves to steal your vehicle. There is also the political issue that led us to these dire theft circumstances. If you feel that the state government has left you vulnerable owing to ill-conceived policies as they apply to the criminal justice system, then it is important to let them know. In the meantime, protect yourself from theft and work with your neighbors to decrease your vulnerability to thefts of all kinds.