A ride with the Auto Theft Task Force - Tucson News Now

A ride with the Auto Theft Task Force

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Auto theft is a big problem in Tucson.

Detectives are getting new cases piling up on their desks every day.

Despite car alarms and steering wheel locks, thieves can break into your car in just seconds.

Since January, the Southern Arizona Vehicle Theft Task Force has recovered more than 200 stolen vehicles, valued in excess of $2 million.

According to the National Institute of Crime Prevention every forty four seconds, a car is stolen in America.

"It's a daily problem for us. We're averaging 50 auto thefts per week on average right now", said Detective Steve Simmers with the auto theft unit of the Tucson Police Department.

Cars are disappearing from streets and driveways everyday.

Jeffery Mead said thieves actually cut through his steering wheel lock, and took his car.

According the Tucson Police Department's auto theft unit, the hotspots for stolen cars in Tucson include the Casa Bella Apartments on Valencia road, the Las Montanas apartments which are now under new management, and big public parking lots.

The Tucson Mall, Park Place Mall, and Walmart on Valencia road make up the top ten list of auto theft hot spots in Tucson.

"It's a big problem," said Sgt. Todd Berson, with the state's Auto Theft Task Force.  A group formed in 1999, at a time when Arizona ranked number one for car thefts in the nation.  The task force is funded by you.  Every time you renew your insurance policy, 50-cents goes into this task force.

"Auto theft is a crime that extends beyond geographic boundaries," said Sgt. Berson.

Officers from multiple law enforcement agencies have teamed up to put a dent in the state's auto theft stats.  Part of their job is to inspect businesses dealing in the storage, sale or repair of cars.  By law, the task force can show up unannounced to conduct random inspections.

"We run wanted checks.  Registration checks on those vehicles and make sure the vehicles are not stolen," said Lt. J.D. Huff with the Arizona Auto Theft Authority, an arm of the Department of Highway Safety.

Officers say 80 percent of the stolen cars end up being recovered at local tow yards, or on streets.  Few end up in Mexico and have to be re-patriated back into the United States.

We contacted the apartment complexes listed as hot spots for stolen cars. Management at Casa Bella Apartments released this statement:

We hope that your viewers will keep in mind that Casa Bella is one of Tucson's largest apartment communities.  We have 410 households living at one address. The statistics only show activity for the one address.  This really doesn't provide a realistic view of this issue.  Larger apartment communities are at a distinct disadvantage.  If you spread out our 410 households, we'd represent over 20 large city blocks.

Our management team works hard to provide the best apartment living available.   We provide courtesy patrols each night that helps keep auto thefts at a minimum.   We work closely with TPD and have achieved the "Crime Free Certification".  Casa Bella is a beautiful community with great residents.   We're the most desirable community in the area.  Of course, car thieves know this, too.  However, if you consider the number of households, you would find that we don't have any higher percentage of thefts than other apartment communities. --Luz Bruscini, CPM, District Manager, MEB Management Services.

Tucson Mall released the following statement: 

"Tucson Mall has a comprehensive security program that employs both security officers, as well as off-duty Tucson Police Officers.  Unfortunately we cannot disclose any particulars regarding our program"

Officials at Walmart also released a statement saying: "We are committed to the safety and security of our customers and associates. The store puts a lot of focus on its security and crime prevention measures including partnering closely with the Tucson Police Department and employing third-party security to patrol the parking lot. We continually look for ways to deter crime in our stores and parking lots and will review our safety measures to make them even more effective."  --Ashlie Hardie, Walmart Spokeswoman.

We contacted the Las Montanas apartment complex for a comment and spoke to a manager, she said "no comment" and declined to answer our questions.

For more information on the state's Auto Theft Task Force you can log onto: http://www.azdps.gov/About/Task_Forces/Vehicle_Theft/

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