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Let's all keep car theft rate down
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Auto theft figures have experienced a welcomed decline in Stanislaus County during recent months. In 2008, from January through October, there were 3,087 vehicles stolen in this county. During the same time period in 2009, 2,587 vehicles were stolen, representing a 14 percent reduction. With the economy as it is, this auto theft decline seems to defy conventional wisdom. Most people expected a crime increase with the deterioration of the economy, but I see no reason to question the statistics here since they were compiled by the various law enforcement agencies within this county.

The causes of crime, whether the issue is auto theft or any other type of offense, are generally for multiple and complex reasons. Suggesting any one reason for the current trend in declining auto thefts would be inadvisable, but it does make one wonder what really is going on. A shrinking population may be contributing to the trend, public intolerance to auto theft may be increasing such that people are being more theft-prevention oriented, police efforts may be paying off, or it could be a combination of all of the aforementioned.

It is also interesting to know that a certain percentage of vehicles reported stolen are in fact, falsely reported so. It is not uncommon for some people to fall behind on their car payments and to then dispose of their cars one way or another; some set fire to them, others send them to out of the country, etc. The police are wise to these frauds, but statistically, they still count as auto thefts.

Auto theft enforcement is important because this problem is very costly to the public, both in terms of the value of the car and because insurance premiums are adversely affected. People whose cars have been stolen often are unable to get to work, and there is any number of other hardships created by losing vehicles to thieves. Our community image is also at stake - having the label of being "No. 1 in the nation" for auto theft paints an ugly picture of the area we live in and it is certainly not an attractive feature for new businesses or residents thinking about relocating here.

The police in this county, led by efforts of the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force (STANCATT), have been particularly aggressive in tackling the auto theft problem. The approach to this has been aggressive enforcement, thorough (and creative) investigations, the use of bait cars, tracking known auto thieves as they enter this county or arrive here from prison, public education, use of steering wheel locks like "The Club," and the devotion of a lot of police time to the theft problem. The media has been assistive with this effort by publicizing the problem and the District Attorney's Office (in particular) and courts have significantly contributed to combating the problem.

The policing system also recognizes police officers who perform outstandingly in addressing the auto theft problem. A good example of this is Ceres Police Officer Jason Brock who, alone, has recovered 78 stolen vehicles and made 23 arrests since 2006 in association with those crimes. Police officers become eligible for a special form of recognition - a uniform pin awarded by the California Highway Patrol, earned by recovering a certain number of stolen vehicles during the course of a year. Within law enforcement circles, these pins are the source of great pride, as it takes special skills and great determination to find stolen cars - let alone 77 of them in just three short years. It may sound easy to the uninformed, but car thieves regularly affix license plates of similar vehicles which have not been reported stolen and use other tactics to avoid detection. Officer Brock is one police officer, in particular, whose path any car thief should want to avoid. Officer Brock will receive his sixth "10851" pin shortly.

The problem with auto thefts in this county and our region, generally, is far from over and the number of stolen vehicles may well increase again as the economy improves or for other reasons that escape explanation at this time. We can appreciate the efforts of Officer Brock and the other law enforcement personnel who serve our communities throughout this county. While the reasons for the theft problem in the first place are many and varied, the most important thing you can do to protect your vehicle(s) is to practice prevention. Lock your cars and never leave keys in them. Do not leave an unattended car running to warm up in the mornings, park in well-lit places at night, neighbors should help look out for each other, use a steering wheel locking device as necessary and consider installing a high quality car alarm.