Vehicle thefts in San Mateo County have dropped 25 percent since 2008, largely due to a doubling in arrests the past two years, according to Peninsula police.
There are a number of reasons for the decline. For one, police have prioritized vehicle theft in general, but they’ve also targeted the pros.
“We focus on professional car thieves because they are the ones who are going to be stealing cars over and over, doing it as a business,” said Sgt. Ron Nelson of the California Highway Patrol. Nelson estimated auto-theft rings are responsible for about half the vehicle thefts in the state.
Police vehicles are now outfitted with computers that enable cops to run an unlimited number of plates, whereas before they had to call dispatch for help, said Darren Scofield, an officer in the county’s Vehicle Theft Task Force, which trolls for stolen autos.
The four-person Vehicle Task Force recently began putting out bait cars that are used to track thieves in high-crime areas. The CHP rotates 16 such cars around the state.
Sharing of information also has helped police catch crooks.
County police are in constant communication, and a daily list is compiled about what’s being stolen and where. Cops then target “hot areas.”
Surprisingly, more than 80 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered over time.
Statewide, well more than half of those recovered are still in good shape, since many are just taken for joyrides or for use in other crimes, said Scofield. The rest are usually chopped up and sold for parts.
Few fancy cars get nabbed.
Three-quarters of all stolen vehicles are 1990s models, with the majority being Toyotas and Hondas, since they lack much of the security technology on newer cars.
“Older Hondas — thieves love those,” said Scofield. “It’s known they are easy to get into.”
The legendary durability of these well-used cars ends up working against them, since their ignitions wear down and a single filed key can start almost any older Honda, according to Nelson.
Popular older cars such as Hondas are also targeted because the demand for their parts is greater, said Nelson.
Statewide reductions in vehicle thefts are due to prioritization of investigations, better training for officers and education among the public about how to prevent cars from being stolen, according to the CHP.