FOCUS: Like dumb criminal stories? Surrey’s auto crime team has seen it all

SURREY — America’s Dumbest Criminals.

We’ve all seen the show.

Forgetting to fill the tank of a getaway car? Doh!

How about filling out a job application, leaving your real name, then proceeding to rob the store?

Safe to assume that guy didn’t get the job.

"I think we should submit some of our stories to that show," said Cpl. Mike Spencer with a chuckle.

"The list could be endless."

As head of Surrey RCMP’s Auto Crime Target Team, dedicated to catching the city’s most prolific car thieves, he’s seen it all.

car theft surrey

There was the guy who locked himself out of a car he’d already stolen. Police watched – likely in hysterics – as the genius attempted to take off.

Instead, he was arrested. Cops asked him why he would put the locking bar on the wheel.

"I didn’t want someone to steal it," he said of the already stolen car.

Because as we all know – criminals included, apparently – those things deter thieves.

"I didn’t think I locked it."

Then there was the car thief who hijacked an already stolen vehicle from another thief.

In another heist, one guy stole a car, then proceeded to make a quick pit stop into a corner store to rob it. With a ski mask on, he jumped behind the counter. Police rushed through the doors, and the man jumped back over the counter in a failed attempt to intimidate the officers.

In doing so, his mask was dislodged and he couldn’t see. There he stood, blind as a bat, as officers had him surrounded and caught red-handed.

But where there’s ying, there’s yang. Just as there are dumb criminals, there are the ones on the other end of the spectrum.

"You really see both sides," said Spencer. "A lot of these guys put so much effort and thought into how they’re going to go about stealing the vehicle, and I tell them this straight to their face, if they took that intelligence and work ethic, they could be a real contributing member of society."

Since January, the auto team has arrested more than 75 people for auto theft and related crimes, with over 240 charges laid.

Spencer said the beauty of the auto team’s work is that most crooks don’t know they’re being watched until it’s too late.

The unit creates profiles of car thieves, including things like who likes to steal what cars, and from where. It enables them to predict who’s behind a crime.

"Inevitably, car thieves are a creature of habit and they’re human, so they start to leave clues and we start to pick up on those."

The specialized unit came about around the time Surrey was dubbed the auto-theft capital of North America in 2002, said Spencer.

"The rate steadily declined over the next 10 years," he noted.

In 2004, there were 6,070 vehicles reported stolen in Surrey, which steadily dropped every year through to 2013, with 2,937, according to RCMP stats. The 10-year average was 4,068.

"We have seen a bit of a blip this past year," said Spencer. "There was a bit of a spike and that has caused us to address how we’re doing business to make sure there’s no other ways we can improve… We want to try and nip it in the bud."

The Vancouver Sun’s Chad Skelton dug through ICBC data in early 2014. He looked at the previous three years of data and found that North Surrey had the worst auto theft problem in the province during that time.

The worst postal code included the area surrounding the three SkyTrain stations – with an average annual stolen auto rate of 653 per 100,000 residents. That’s more than four times B.C.’s average of 143.

RCMP Sgt. Gary Rodricks, head of Surrey’s Auto Crime Target Team at the time, said north Surrey’s high rate of auto crime is likely due to a combination of poor neighbourhoods and large parking lots.

Thieves tend to notice when cops crack down on specific areas, and move their business elsewhere, at least for a time, Spencer said, adding it’s a bit like a game of whack-a-mole.

car theft surrey

But the team doesn’t just nab the bad guys, they try to educate the public as well. Spencer said while thieves have long since targeted unattended vehicles left running – like a car being warmed up in the driveway before work in the morning – many are getting creative these days.

Criminals will go after unattended keys – swiping them from purses, snooping around in locker rooms, even nabbing keys from mechanic shops. Because after all, it’s a lot easier to steal a car when you’ve got the key.

He warns the public to keep a close eye on their keys at all times. For more tips on how to protect your vehicle, visit Surrey.rcmp-grc. gc.ca. To report a car stolen, or provide a tip, call Surrey RCMP at 604-599-0502.

SURREY’S FOUR MOST WANTED

Surrey RCMP put out their top four "most wanted" car thieves in late April. Two have already been caught.

Police nabbed 29-yearold Matthew Soper, who was wanted on a slew of warrants, in Penticton.

Then there was 18-yearold Alexander Jelasco. Police say he was bragging online about being on the list. But that’s not how they caught him.

A fight broke out at a Whalley bar near 107th Avenue and King George Boulevard and one of the women involved was taken home by police.

Turns out that’s where Jelasco was staying, and the cops busted him.

Surrey RCMP continue to hunt for Richard Mantler, 44, who is wanted for breach of undertaking, breach of probation and assault and 23-year-old Zak Haight, who is wanted for obstructing a police officer, driving while prohibited and driving while suspended.

areid@thenownewspaper.com

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