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Helping to reduce car theft
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Crime statistics for the month of January of this year, as compared to January of 2008 shows a substantial increase of auto thefts throughout Stanislaus County. The unincorporated areas of the County alone experienced a 25 percent increase, while the city of Ceres went up 13.8 percent and Modesto's figures increased 7.9 percent. This increase reflects a change to the steady decline we saw in the previous 18 months. The decline, of course, has been a good thing, but the January, 2009 figures suggest a trend reversal. This news comes at a time when California's criminal justice system is taking significant budgetary hits and tens of thousands of prisoners are being let out of jail before completing their sentences. Stanislaus County has had the dubious distinction of occupying the national "first place" position for the auto theft rate - thus earning the title of being the "Auto Theft Capital" of the nation in 2007 and 2008. Our region has been plagued with auto theft problems for at least the last decade, consistently placing in the "top ten" cities in America with the highest auto theft rates. And as previously stated, we placed number one on multiple occasions during the last 10 years.

Auto thefts occur for many reasons. Of the thousands of vehicles stolen in Stanislaus County each year, more than 90 percent are recovered within a few days, suggesting that they are being used for local trips or other reasons. Some of these vehicles are stripped for parts, a certain percentage of reported thefts are actually insurance fraud cases, a number of these stolen vehicles are used to commit crimes like thefts, burglaries, drug runs, drive-by shootings, etc. Some stolen vehicles end up in chop shops, and others are destined for sale in Mexico, Canada and overseas countries.

A continuing problem with auto thefts is that people frequently leave their keys in their cars. Stanislaus County is the last place where someone should do such a thing, as the odds are extremely high that a car with keys in it will be stolen. Hondas and Toyotas are among the most common vehicle models stolen. Make no mistake, though, all types of vehicles are subject to thefts. One reason Hondas and Toyotas are frequent targets is because they are commonly used in street racing. Some street racing enthusiasts steal the aforementioned vehicles to remove expensive parts like alternators, suspension parts, rims, tires, fuel-delivery systems, transmissions and radiators.

Stanislaus County law enforcement agencies have joined efforts to thwart the auto theft problem, but it is critical that the community stays involved in the solution. We strongly encourage motorists to use steering wheel locking devices, such as "The Club" to make their vehicles harder to steal. It is imperative to remove keys from the vehicle when it is not in operation, and the act of warming up unattended cars is a sure invitation for an auto thief. It is advisable to park your vehicles in well-lit areas with all the windows closed and doors locked.

Of course, it is also important to report suspicious persons who appear to be loitering in parking lots and neighborhoods, looking for cars to steal. The police will continue to do their part by using bait cars and other techniques to apprehend these thieves. Keep in mind that auto theft is costly, regardless of whether you have insurance coverage for it or not. Few auto theft victims receive full insurance reimbursement for their loss and at the very least, it is a major inconvenience. There is also the feeling of being violated after your car has been taken and abused by criminals and your personal property rummaged through. Many car theft victims are repulsed at the thought of having to drive a car that has been recovered after being stolen and driven by criminal strangers.

It now looks like the auto theft problem is poised to significantly worsen in our area. Now is the time to increase our prevention measures, actively report would-be auto thieves, and help keep an eye out for neighbors and other potential car theft victims.