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Auto theft rate decreases
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Recently-released auto theft statistics for jurisdictions in Stanislaus County reflect relatively good news for automobile owners. For the period from January through September, 2008, auto theft has decreased 19.5 percent as compared to the same period in 2007. Stanislaus County has been the "auto theft capital" for the last several years, making for an uneasy environment in which to own a car. In 2007, for example, there were 3,788 instances of auto theft in this county - an unenviable number when compared to national averages.

In Ceres, auto thefts declined by 12.5 percent, which is good -- but also a matter of concern. I have asserted for a long time that we have too many parolees and persons on probation visiting or residing in this community, which tends to explain the fact that auto theft reduction here is not as great as the average (19.5 percent) of the other jurisdictions in Stanislaus County.

On a more positive note, the city of Ceres just a few months ago activated its much-needed Street Crimes Unit (SCU), whose focus is to investigate and abate criminal gang activity, go after parole violators, deal with drug houses and proactively attack crime with its four-member team. Prior to the creation of the SCU, the Ceres police force was able to engage in only limited proactive policing only as time allowed, with no real continuity. Just recently, in one week alone, the SCU took down three methamphetamine labs in Ceres residential areas. The point, of course, is that I am expecting auto thieves, drug dealers, and gangs to seriously feel the presence of our Street Crimes Unit.

With the state budget crisis and impending court order to release thousands of inmates from state prisons, along with the predictable increase of crime that accompanies bad economic times, the role of the police is that much more important. It is also imperative that citizens increase their awareness and become very prevention-minded in order to deal with the advent of a possible crime wave. The number of auto thefts is bound to increase along with all the other problems the people of this state now face.

In terms of auto theft prevention, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim by taking a few simple precautions. The thing to not do is to leave your car running unattended while you wait for it to warm up in the morning. We call these "warm-up thefts," which make up a large percentage of the cars stolen during the cooler months of the year. Thieves are constantly roaming neighborhoods looking for cars with engines running that unwitting owners believe are safe. It takes just seconds to steal these "warm-up" cars, and they are easy for thieves to spot because of the condensation emitted from the tailpipes. Never leave your keys in your unattended car, running or not, even for a few seconds at the ATM or when paying for fuel. You have to assume that there is always a thief just waiting for the opportunity to steal your car. Use of a steering wheel locking device like "the Club" is advisable, and installing a car alarm is also not a bad idea.

It is unfortunate that there are so many threats to our personal property and possessions. These threats are merely a reflection of a society that needs to clean itself up. And it is not going to change overnight, so prevention and diligent policing is the best approach to the problem at this time.