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Avoid practices that put your vehicle at risk of being stolen
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During the period from January through October, 2010, auto thefts in Stanislaus County were up by 6.7 percent as compared to the same period in 2009. In terms of real numbers, 3,134 vehicles have been stolen so far this year. This means that 3,134 people of this county, mostly low- to medium-income individuals, who could ill-afford such a loss, were victimized. These victims are not merely statistics; they are people who need their cars to get to work, go grocery shopping, take their kids to school and for doctor visits.

There are so many auto theft cases each year in this county, and in this state, for that matter, that the problem receives less attention than is truly warranted. In fact, the problem is so "routine" that state officials considered reducing the crime of auto theft to a mere misdemeanor. I doubt that the victims feel that the theft of their cars are minor offenses that should be treated so lightly.

In comparison to several years ago, the auto theft problem in Stanislaus County has improved significantly. In 2005, almost 7,000 vehicles were reported stolen during that particular year. So, the problem has abated somewhat, but the Modesto area continues to be among the top three (usually No.1) worst locations for auto theft. It is not a happy place to be, either for the thousands of victims, nor is it good for the reputation and image of the area in which we live.

One of the contributing factors for the high rate of auto thefts in our area is that a large percentage of vehicles stolen are the result of morning "warm-ups." During the winter months here, vehicle windows are usually fogged-up in the mornings and it is a chilly transition from leaving a warm house only to get into a cold car that has been sitting in the cold dampness of the night. Too many people believe that running their car while unattended is no problem, as long as it is locked up. But thieves roam neighborhoods specifically looking for these situations. All they have to do is break a window or use a special key to gain access and drive away in an already-warmed-up car. Some of the victims make it all too easy for thieves to get away with their cars. No matter how uncomfortable it is to get into a cold damp car, it is never advisable to leave your car running, unattended, at any time. It is one very sure way to lose your car to a thief.

All cars are subject to theft. It is simply a matter of opportunity and how well equipped a thief is for stealing a particular make and model of vehicle. But Hondas, Toyotas, Saturns and Nissans from 1989 to the late 1990s models are particularly vulnerable. The aforementioned are popular for many reasons, and one being that they are easy to steal. Therefore, if you own one of these vehicles, it is important to take extra steps to keep them safe from thieves. Car alarms are helpful, having observant and vigilant neighbors to report suspicious persons is a must, parking your car in a garage when possible is a preventive measure that can be taken and when parking on the street, try to do so in a well-lit area. Finally, use a steering wheel lock. They actually work! These steering wheel locks are relatively inexpensive and are made to fit virtually all vehicles that have been manufactured in modern times. The police are so confident in their functionality that all law enforcement agencies in this county have been giving the locking devices away free to owners of the most vulnerable types of vehicles. Supplies are limited at this time, but it may be worth it to you to stop by or call your local police department to inquire about the availability of these locking devices. So far some 1,500 of these locks have been given away, and we expect to run out fairly soon. Even if you cannot obtain a steering wheel lock for free, it will be very much worth it to buy one from your local retailer. These locks typically cost in the range of $35 to $50.

The police take the auto theft problem very seriously. In fact, this county has a multi-agency auto theft task force that focuses on identifying and arresting auto thieves, dealing with stolen vehicle "chop shops," and the task force agents also work hard to locate and recover the vehicles that have been stolen. This task force is called STANCATT (Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce), and it is made up of 10 law enforcement officers representing almost all of the agencies in this county.

As can be clearly seen, we have a long way to go before we can declare any kind of victory over the car theft problem. It will take the community and the police working together, while car owners, particularly, need to take all the necessary steps to safeguard their vehicles. We have already halved the auto theft problem since 2005, let us now finish up on the second half!