Last year 2,961 automobiles were stolen in Surrey compared to 1,495 in Vancouver. (Photo: IMPACT, baitcar.com

Surrey still struggles with auto theft

Not nearly as bad as its “Car theft Capital of North America” days, but still worse than Vancouver’s

While Surrey’s auto crime problem is not as bad as it was in 2001 when the city was dubbed the car theft capital of North America, it’s still worse than Vancouver’s.

More than 6,000 autos had been stolen in Surrey that year, earning it the infamous tag. By 2003, that number had climbed to 8,042 vehicles stolen within the city’s limits.

But a number of police initiatives, including the Bait Car program, helped reduce those numbers dramatically. The program is operated by the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team, based in Surrey. Twenty-two auto theft investigators from seven Lower Mainland police forces work out of this city.

“Where we were in 2000, 2001, we are drastically down and that’s because of our Bait Car program, and new technology with cars with immobilizers, and we have our volunteer Lock Out Auto Crime and Stolen Auto Recovery Teams out there working with us,” Surrey RCMP Sergeant Chad Greig told the Now-Leader.

“We’ve done a great job bringing it back down in comparison to where we were in 2000.”

Surrey RCMP Sergeant Chad Greig. (Photo: Surrey RCMP)

Surrey RCMP statistics reveal that from 2007 to 2016, on average 3,461 vehicles were stolen each year. Of those years, the highest number was in 2014, with 4,447 autos stolen and the lowest, in 2011, with 2,791 stolen. Last year there was 2,961 auto thefts recorded in Surrey, making for a five per cent decrease from 3,110 in 2016.

In comparison, Vancouver Police reported 1,182 auto thefts in that city in 2012, 1,073 in 2013, 1,314 in 2014, 1,385 in 2015, 1,473 in 2016 and 1,495 in 2017.

READ ALSO: Old Honda Civics, Accords among top stolen cars in Vancouver

Petrolheadarabia.com in a story posted last year on countries with the highest auto theft rates reported that Canada is “one of the most dangerous countries for getting your car stolen in the world.” The writer went on to say that’s “quite surprising when considering the generally good natured character of Canadians.”

According to Statistics Canada, however, auto theft has been on the decrease, with 160,014 cases reported by Canadian police forces in 2005, 92,506 reported in 2010 and 78,849 reported in 2015.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported this past December that between 2015 and 2016 auto theft had dropped “down slightly to just over 78,000 cases” and the biggest increases were in Yukon (22 percent), Nunavut (18 per cent) and Saskatchewan (15 per cent).

The Surrey RCMP Auto Crime Target Team (ACTT) works with other plainclothes units and in January and February noticed a spike of stolen and abandoned stolen vehicles in Guildford. In response, IMPACT deployed a bait car. It was stolen the next day and the alleged driver was identified from the car’s video, police said in a press release.

“While officers were compiling the results of their investigation, the alleged suspect was arrested by another police agency after allegedly being an occupant in a stolen vehicle that crashed,” Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko said. Jacob Sihata, as a result, is charged with one count each of theft of a motor vehicle, jewelry theft and possession of a break-in instrument.

Surrey RCMP Corporal Elenore Sturko. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk).

Earlier this month, ACTT also arrested Surrey resident Alexander Eaton, 25, who was on IMPACT’s top 10 most wanted list. ACTT officers on patrol spotted an Acura EL sedan that been stolen earlier in the day and, with help from Surrey RCMP’s Property Crime Target Team (PCTT) and the RCMP’s Air 1 helicopter, followed it to Coquitlam Centre Mall where the driver was busted. Eaton has been charged with theft of a motor vehicle, possession of stolen property, resisting arrest, breach of recognizance, possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of trafficking, and possession of a controlled substance.

Inspector Shawna Baher, Surrey RCMP’s Proactive Enforcement Officer, said that with the “advent of intelligence gathering methods, strategic targeting, and tools like the Bait Car program, auto crime rates have been on a downward trend in Surrey” and “together with our provincial partners, our specialized teams target the most prolific auto crime offenders who commit the highest percentage of crime in our community.”

Public awareness, of course, is an important aspect of fighting auto theft. The Lock Out Auto Crime Program aims to help automobile owners ensure their vehicle is “target hardened”. Volunteers audit parked cars at theft hot-spots and leave a note on the windshield when they discover the motorist has done something to make their car a handy target, like leaving their phone, or loose change in sight.

“Identify theft, fraud, and breaks-ins are common secondary crimes resulting from thefts from vehicles,” Sturko noted. “The Lock Out Auto Crime program is educating property owners to help police shut down would-be thieves.”

Volunteers with the Stolen Auto Recovery Program also help police find stolen autos by checking license plates in known theft hot-spots. Sturko said 14 stolen vehicles have been recovered so far this year, leading to two arrests.

Often stolen cars are used to commit more crime before they’re eventually dumped in a parking lot or a side street. Sometimes they are badly damaged, even destroyed. “It would vary from case to case,” Sturko said. “I couldn’t really give you an accurate number of or percentage of damage because it is so variable. Sometimes you can get some and they’re totally fine and then other times you might get some with damage depending on how the vehicle was entered or what the vehicle was used for, if the person crashed it, so it’s really variable.”

Surrey RCMP volunteers each month on average check roughly 2,500 licence plates. They are trained to use a database and smartphone app to run the plates and if a number comes up “stolen,” they call police.

April is Auto Crime Enforcement Month in B.C.

“In British Columbia, we need to see thefts from vehicles drop more significantly in order to say we are having an impact on deterring auto crime,” said Inspector Brian MacDonald, of IMPACT. “The hard work of our team at IMPACT and the diligence of our officers has gone a long way towards educating the public and making vehicle owners aware of how they can help bring these statistics down.”



tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com

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