Law enforcement officials in Douglas County are concerned about the increased rate of auto thefts happening across the region. The trend began in 2020, continuing into early 2021. In Douglas County, …
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Law enforcement officials in Douglas County are concerned about the increased rate of auto thefts happening across the region. The trend began in 2020, continuing into early 2021.
In Douglas County, Sheriff Tony Spurlock said he is following the trend closely because car thefts can be a precursor to suburban areas seeing an increase in other misdemeanors and felonies.
According to data produced by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there is one auto theft committed every 6.5 minutes in the U.S.
According to Colorado Department of Public Safety crime statistics, in 2020 there were 318 motor vehicle thefts in the areas patrolled by the Douglas County sheriff's office, a 79% increase from 2019. In breaking down the countywide numbers, Highlands Ranch had the biggest jump, from 115 reported vehicle thefts in 2019 to 264 in 2020.
Spurlock said cases in Castle Pines — patrolled by the sheriff's office — are not a major concern at this time, but 2020 did see a double-digit increase, going from 10 stolen vehicles in 2019 to 26 a year later.
In Castle Rock, Police Chief Jack Cauley brought up his concerns during an April 6 presentation to the town council. Cauley said car thefts jumped by 81% in 2020. Additionally, Cauley reported a 36% increase in car break-in cases and a 26% increase in general thefts.
Cauley said when the pandemic hit, everything was shut down, people either lost their jobs or were moved to working remotely. That meant more cars were accessible, making vehicle theft a crime of opportunity in 2020, he said.
“Usually, these cars are stolen to commit other crimes,” Cauley said. “They figure it's better to use someone else's car. They commit the crime, ditch that car and get another one.”
According to state crime data, there were 107 car-theft cases reported in Castle Rock through 2020. In the first three months of 2021, Castle Rock police have investigated 50 cases between January and March.
Convenience is a big factor in Castle Rock, Cauley said — not just because more cars have been accessible during the pandemic, but due to the town's location. Being right off I-25 between Denver and Colorado Springs makes the town a target for car thieves, he said.
Douglas County District Attorney John Kellner said in 2019 his office handled 111 cases regarding aggravated vehicle theft. In 2020, the number jumped to 175. Already in 2021, they have more than 70 cases. Kellner noted that these were just the cases that had sufficient evidence to file charges. There were many other unsolved and uncharged cases, he said.
To understand the reason for the increase, Kellner said it comes down to how offenders were treated differently in 2020. To keep jail populations low because of COVID, Kellner said most cases of vehicle theft had offenders being immediately released with no bail.
Looking at case files, Kellner said he has had multiple incidents where an offender is back on the docket for stealing a car while he has not even been punished for stealing others.
“The answer to stopping these trends is to have good pretrial provisions,” he said. “We need appropriate sentencing to show (suspects) and their friends that this lawlessness has got to stop.”
In Parker, police fielded 111 reports of vehicle thefts in 2020, up from 65 cases in 2019.
Police Chief Jim Tsurapas said, “This problem is not isolated to Parker, it is impacting the entire region. COVID had a lot to do with the rise in cases. With jails not taking people in, people knew there were no consequences. They knew there was no jail, no bond and they were out quickly. Crime has no jurisdictional boundaries.”
Kellner said sentencing has become an issue. In aggravated car theft cases, Kellner said only a small percentage of those found guilty go to prison and that is only if they are repeat offenders. Instead, most sentences are centered around fines and occasional jail time.
Spurlock said car thefts also cost the system as insurance companies are paying out millions for the lost vehicles. According to the state's crime data, the cumulative value of the 318 vehicles stolen in areas patrolled by the sheriff's office in Douglas County is estimated at more than $5.5 million.
In areas patrolled by sheriff's deputies in neighboring counties, Jefferson County stayed essentially steady over the past three years, but Arapahoe County saw a bigger increase. The charts show Jefferson County had 366 car theft reports in 2020, compared to 354 cases reported in 2019. In Arapahoe County, detectives investigated 494 vehicle-theft reports in 2020, a 75% increase from the 283 cases in 2019.
Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Shrader said 2020 presented plenty of challenges for law enforcement and the nation. In speaking about his opposition to Senate Bill 21-62, Shrader brought up the trend, noting that while car theft is considered non-violent, it does not mean that is the end of criminal behavior and could lead to breaking more laws.
Kellner said he also takes issue with the wording in SB21-62, noting that some lawmakers and others say car theft is just a small criminal offense.
In disputing the claim, Kellner said, “It is not just some property crime. If you have to pick up your kids in that car, when you need that car to get to a job you just got after losing another job during COVID — that car means everything.”
In Colorado, motor vehicle theft in the first degree constitutes a class 3, 4, or 5 felony. According to Colorado Revised Statute 18-1-901 (2020), Colorado law defines a motor vehicle as any vehicle propelled by motor power, other than vehicles run on rails.
If SB-62 passes the state Legislature, Shrader said individuals suspected of stealing a car will only be issued a citation. Watching the continued increase in theft across the region, Shrader said he is concerned offenders will be emboldened to commit more crimes using stolen cars.
Statewide, Colorado had 27,909 vehicle thefts in 2020, a 35% increase from 2019.
Go to https://coloradocrimestats.state.co.us/tops/ to see online crime statistics.
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