A Thornton effort to stem the number of automobile thefts that kicked off this spring is just getting started, City Councilors learned Sept. 13.
The Common Sense Institute found Colorado to be the top state in America for auto thefts in a study published Sept. 8, and four Colorado cities rank in the top ten in the United States. One of those cities is Westminster, ranking at 8. Thornton ranked at 21.
Thornton’s Deputy Chief of Police Greg Reeves presented a report to councilors on the city’s Vehicle Theft Task Force at their Sept. 13 meeting. The task force began in May 2022 and aims to address the growing number of auto thefts. Reeves said the department doesn’t know why the amount of crimes continues to grow.
According to the national study, the current auto theft rate in the state stands at 4,007 per month, and motor vehicle thefts are on track to be 48,000 for this year — reaching an all-time high.
In 2021, there were 4,002 arrests for motor vehicle theft. In 2022, Colorado is on pace for 4,538.
The study found that the value of the stolen vehicles is between $468.1 million and $848.3 million. The most stolen make and models of cars are 2005 Chevrolet Silverado Truck, 2004 Ford F-250, 2000 Honda Civic, 1997 Honda Accord, 2017 Hyundai Sonata, 2015 Kia Optima, 2005 GMC Sierra, 2017 Kia Sportage, 2006 Ford F-350 and 2017 Hyundai Tucson.
Westminster police could not be reached for comment, but Reeves told councilors his numbers in Thornton backed that national study up. In 2012, Thornton saw 345 auto thefts and 1,186 in 2021. In 2022 as of Aug. 23, there have been 764.
The group collects the data surrounding car thefts and decides actions from there, he said. Although the crimes occur across the city, there are pockets where they are more frequent. The department then sends more officers to the areas where the thefts are more frequent.
They also try to break the cycle of “respond, arrest, repeat” and target repeat offenders. To do so, the department uses the crime triangle, which places the offender, the victim and the place as its three points. Targeting one of those points helps solve the problem.
“If you’re able to eliminate just one portion of that crime triangle, you’re going to have a severe impact on eliminating the harmful offense,” Reeves said.
He said statistics have shown that 10% of the offenders are responsible for 50% of the crimes and 10% of the places account for 60% of the calls for service.
So far 239 case reports have been filed and 59 suspects have been arrested. Of those arrests, four repeat offenders were arrested. 118 vehicles have been recovered and 12 firearms. Through all of this, the department did not engage in vehicle pursuits.
The task force has presented 162 cases to the district attorney’s office and charges have been filed in 119 cases while 13 are still pending charges.
However, the approach isn’t solely typical police work. It also involves an educational component. Statistics also show that 10% of individual car theft victims are likely to be victimized again.
“Not only neighborhood meetings and events, but we are also knocking on doors, passing out flyers and educating residents on what they can do to better our success in eliminating auto theft,” Reeves said.
Through education, they hope to reduce the number of vehicles. Simply locking cars and closing garage doors can make a big difference.
“In trespass to vehicles, probably 60% of our trespass to vehicles are unlocked vehicles. In auto thefts, we’re finding vehicles where the garage door was left open, the keys were left in the car and they become a victim,” he said.
The work comes with a cost, he told councilors. A large portion of the police work on this issue came from officers assigned to overtime shifts. Since the start, the department has spent an additional $49,000 in overtime costs to address the issue through extra staff.
There's a cost to the officers, too. One officer was sprayed with bear spray after approaching a stolen vehicle and many foot chases and altercations in parking lots have taken place.
“This has been a crime that’s been going on for a long time, all our residents have been impacted by it one way or another, and the work that you’re doing is having a tremendous positive impact on our community,” said Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Sandgren.