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Car theft rate back up
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The 2007 auto theft statistics are in for Stanislaus County, with a grand total of 5,045 vehicles stolen during the year. This represents an increase of 5.3 percent as compared to 2006. It may seem like a small increase, but I am concerned that other factors are now converging to set the stage for a much bigger jump in thefts in 2008.

The factors that are now coming together to create a possible "big storm" are that our criminal justice system has become increasingly overloaded and, accordingly, criminals are spending less time in jail. Bail bonds companies are charging persons arrested for auto theft a mere pittance of the bail amount set by the courts. As an example, if an arrested person has their bail set for $40,000, some bail bonds companies will charge only one percent (or $400) for the bond, and of that amount they often allow it to be paid via credit card. With the aforementioned arrangements, someone charged with auto theft has little to fear in terms of the consequences of being arrested.

There is the issue of the economy which is sputtering at this time, the housing market is suffering, and unemployment is on the rise. We know from past experience that high crime rates go hand-in-hand with high unemployment. Add in the very real prospect of tens of thousands of prisoners being early-released from state prison, it becomes very easy to see that we are headed for a much bigger auto theft problem. And the impact of the factors I have mentioned are not limited to auto theft. We are likely to see the problems manifest in virtually all types of property crime.

Another trend we see when economic times become tough are cases of insurance fraud. When people lose their jobs, some may be unable to make their car payments. The unscrupulous ones will burn and abandon their cars and then file an auto theft report to cover the loss. The police are quite aware of this scam so we investigate these kinds of alleged theft reports very rigorously.

Mid-90s foreign-made cars, Hondas in particular, are among the car thieves' favorites. To be blunt, if you own a car of this type, it is in serious jeopardy of being stolen. It is imperative that you lock the car when unattended, use a steering wheel incapacitating device (like the "Club") to make it more difficult to steal. Never, ever, leave the keys in the car, even for a few moments. We are also seeing that people are leaving their cars running and unattended in the morning for a warm-up. At any given time, there are crooks traveling through neighborhoods specifically looking for the unwitting car owner that has left them a car that takes only seconds to steal. A cold car is never pleasant to drive in the morning, but cold is better than having no car at all.

Frankly, I think our communities are facing tough times in terms of potential criminal activity. The police are gearing up for these problems, but the absolute best way to keep from becoming a victim is to make it too hard for a car thief to take your car. We cannot stop all crime, but we can make big strides in crime prevention by being careful with our cars and other possessions. And be sure to report suspicious activities in your neighborhoods.