Auto Thefts in Colorado Dip 40 Percent in 2 Years

By P. Solomon Banda | June 30, 2008

Auto thefts reported to police in Colorado dipped 40 percent between 2005 and 2007, partly because of a stronger focus on preventing and solving those crimes and tougher penalties in at least one community.

Auto thefts, which totaled 25,315 in 2005, dropped to 16,353 in 2007, according to statewide crime figures released by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The drop in auto thefts led to an overall 19 percent drop in major crimes across the state over the same period. Homicides have dipped 12 percent since 2005, burglary is down 17 percent, while forcible rape is down 1 percent over the two year period. Law enforcement officials credit the overall drop to public involvement and an increasing use of DNA evidence to solve property crimes, not just murders and rapes.

“We’re able to get on things quicker before they get out of hand,” said Sonny Jackson, a spokesman for Denver police, referring to the overall drop in crime, and the community approach to law enforcement.

The figures reported to the CBI by 237 law enforcement agencies from across the state use the same methodology that the FBI uses to track crime in major cities.

Denver and Aurora, which led the state in total number of stolen vehicles, said recent public campaigns to discourage people from letting their cars warm up by idling on driveways in the winter has contributed to the decline in thefts.

Auto thefts in Denver dropped from 8,024 in 2005 to 5,104 in 2007, a 43 percent decrease, while Aurora’s auto theft went from 2,740 to 1,715, 38 percent decrease.

Aurora police Detective Shannon Lucy said the drop in part to municipal ordinances that allow some first-time offenders to serve jail time.

“In the past they would have to have several offenses before getting actual jail time,” she said. “Now, they can’t go out and steal a bunch of cars before anyone looks their way.”

One unit in the Aurora department plots reports of thefts on a map then patrols those areas. They also conduct other operations that include setting up bait cars.

The Colorado Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, funded by the insurance industry, has contributed about $700,000 since 2005 to help pay overtime costs for officers investigating auto thefts. Colorado State Patrol Capt. Stephen Bellinger, chairman of the organization’s board, said agencies sharing information with each other has also helped police.

“So they share information on the suspects they’re working on and low and behold, it turns out to be the same suspect,” he said.

A law that goes into effect July 1 requires insurance companies to pay $1 for every insured vehicle to provide millions of dollars to CATPA.

Meanwhile, Lance Clem, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, said an increasing percentage of DNA evidence sent to the CBI’s crime lab now comes from property crimes investigations, such as burglaries. Clem did not immediately have percentages of how the estimated 100,000 samples sent to the CBI’s crime lab each year breaks down by crime category.

Sgt. Joe Garcia, of the property crimes division of the Pueblo Police department, said DNA has helped solve about a half a dozen property crimes in the past couple of years.

In a recent study by Denver police, investigators were able to identify burglary suspects in 56 percent of 255 test cases using DNA analyzed at its own lab.

“We’re always looking for DNA and fingerprints at crime scenes now, no matter what the crime,” said Denver police District 4 Cmdr. Rudy Sandoval.

Sandoval said prosecutors are less likely to plea bargain a case involving DNA evidence and that the sentences imposed are harsher, noting that the average sentence for such cases is between 10 to 14 years.

“We’ve arrested burglars that have pleaded to the crime that we know have committed hundreds of burglaries in a six month period,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval’s district was the first in Denver to adopt a “broken windows” approach to community policing in 2006. Sandoval credits the increased patrols, meetings with residents and businesses with a corresponding 16.9 percent drop in crime in one area of his district.

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