2004 Vehicle Theft Award of Merit

Category 1 (1-250 Officers) Winner: Roanoke, Virginia, Police Department, of which A. L. Gaskins is the Chief

Roanoke leads southwestern Virginia in auto thefts; it recorded in 2003, 537 such thefts, with an 83 percent recovery rate and a 42 percent clearance rate. To combat these thefts, the Police Department developed and launched a multi-pronged effort. Initially, it instituted a 24-hour “Auto Theft Suppression” course to provide its officers and those in other agencies with advanced training in commercial motor vehicle and motorcycle theft, current trends, evidence collection/preservation, salvage yard inspections, title and registration fraud, vehicle identification, and VIN etching. Moreover, it initiated a “bait vehicle” program, and the City enacted an ordinance requiring the registration of mopeds and scooters; the display of registration tags; and their operators to wear face shields, safety glasses or goggles, unless the mopeds or scooters are equipped with safety glass or windshields. Finally, it held a number of free VIN etching events, developed two public service announcements (one concerning auto theft prevention tips; the other promoting Help Eliminate Auto Theft’s [H.E.A.T.’s] tip hotline) for broadcast on the area’s cable access channel, and devised an “auto theft” block in its Citizens’ Police Academy curriculum.

Category 2 (251-1,000 Officers) Winner: Tempe, Arizona, Police Department, of which Ralph Tranter is the Chief

The following comprehensive efforts of the Tempe Police Department reduced vehicle theft in 2003 by 16% over 2002 (2,701 thefts in 2003 vs. 3,215 in 2002) with a 74 percent recovery rate and with the number of arrests remaining constant:

  • In collaboration with the Allstate Insurance Company, the Farmers Insurance Group, the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Local Law Enforcement Block Grants (LLEBG) Program, the Police Department deployed bait vehicles equipped with global positioning systems (GPS).
  • It developed more timely and complete statistics concerning both vehicle thefts and recoveries to allow for more accurate placement of bait vehicles and for more effective patrolling.
  • It modified its reporting procedures to require vehicle thefts to be investigated by patrol officers rather than to be accepted via telephone in order to provide improved service and to discourage fraud.
  • It launched Operation Winter Freeze, a multifaceted program involving crime prevention, selective enforcement, and investigation undertaken at the Arizona Mills Mall—the number one location for vehicle theft in Tempe.
  • It conducted four VIN etching events during which 476 vehicles were marked free of charge, distributed without charge 2,800 antitheft devices during 86 community events hosted at apartment complexes, encouraged registration in the “Watch Your Car” program, and further raised awareness by utilizing highway billboards, erecting banners, and preparing crime prevention brochures and news articles.
Category 3 (1,001+ Officers) Winner: New York City, New York, Police Department, of which Raymond W. Kelly is the Commissioner

The following innovative programs of the NYPD reduced vehicle theft in 2003 by 12.1 percent over 2002; every patrol borough experienced in 2003 a decrease in vehicle thefts:

  • It developed a four-day “Basics of Auto Crime” course focusing on methods of identifying stolen vehicles and altered VINs and delivered it to 1,080 NYPD officers and 116 from other agencies.
  • It recommended federal legislation that included high-density discharge (HDD) headlights as “major component parts,” so they would be marked with an NYSTA sticker.
  • Its officers conducted 1,258 unannounced “Get Legit or Quit” inspections to monitor and reduce unlicensed repair and auto body shops.
  • The NYPD and allied city agencies utilized its MARCH [Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots] program to deter vehicle theft by addressing conditions which negatively impact residents’ quality of life in identified neighborhoods.
  • Like HEAT, NYPD officers stopped vehicles displaying CAT [Combat Auto Theft] decals, i.e., those of consenting residents between 1:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M., as well as of participating commuters between 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. The decals provide reasonable suspicion that drivers lack the authority to operate vehicles during the pertinent hours.
  • Officers’ etching VINs on windshields allows them to be linked to engine parts.
  • Like CAT, officers stopped vehicles displaying HEAT [Help End Auto Theft] decals, i.e., those of persons at least 40 years old who agree that their vehicles will not be driven by anyone under 25. The decals provide reasonable suspicion that drivers appearing younger than 25 years old lack the authority to operate those vehicles.
  • With the cooperation and assistance of State parole officers, NYPD officers tracked “grand larceny—auto” recidivists and parolees; they debriefed them and conducted home visits on those targeted. The Brooklyn North Auto Larceny Unit alone effected 14 arrests of parolees and apprehended many more parole absconders.
  • The NYPD successfully concluded five major investigations:
    • Operation Lien-Ex, the investigation of a Dominican-based vehicle title counterfeiting ring and a South Asian-based credit fraud ring. In conjunction with the FBI, officers have arrested 20 persons and recovered more than 120 stolen vehicles valued in excess of $1.4M.
    • Operation Family Ties, the investigation of a Brooklyn salvage yard which—on the basis of 18 search warrants—yielded two firearms, “cut” cars and parts valued at more than $500,000.00, and in excess of $380,000.00 in assets.
    • Operation Greenfields, the joint investigation of illegal dumping and disposing of hazardous waste by automobile salvage yards resulting in the indictment of 66 persons and 26 corporations.
    • Operation Bait and Switch, a 28-month joint investigation of the fraudulent purchase and the illegal export of luxury vehicles, 14 of which have been recovered and are valued at $700,000.00. Six persons have been arrested.
    • Insurance Fraud, a joint initiative in the Bronx to detect fraudulent theft reports concerning vehicles that have been abandoned or burned. Ninety-six incidents have been investigated resulting in the recovery of 57 vehicles and in 22 arrests.
Category 4 (Multi-agency task forces) Winner: Midessa Metro Auto Theft Task Force, Odessa, Texas, which Lieutenant Rick D. Pippins commands

The Midessa Metro Auto Theft Task Force, funded by a grant from the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority, serves 400,000 residents in 24 Texas counties; coordinates its efforts with local, state, federal, and Mexican agencies; and has dismantled since its inception more than 11 auto theft rings resulting in a 22 percent decrease in auto theft. In 2003 alone, it filed charges in 501 cases and recovered 401 stolen vehicles worth an estimated $4.5M, an increase in recoveries of 17 percent over 2002. Its success can be attributed to the following efforts:

  • It acquired a self-contained trailer which operates as a mobile command post and a community outreach unit, negating the need for satellite offices in its 48,000-square-mile area of operation, and which allows its officers to pursue more effectively and efficiently investigations of stolen ATVs.
  • Operation Lock-Tight, twice conducted in 2003, is an educational and enforcement effort targeting citizens who fail to properly secure their vehicles, leave their keys in the ignition, and allow their vehicles to be unsecured and running in public places.
  • Task Force officers inspected vehicle salvage yards, auto dealerships, and mechanic shops to detect stolen vehicles and/or their components.
  • Task Force officers made 26 appearances on local television and radio programs and at fairs and commercial enterprises. Its efforts also were featured in newspaper articles.
  • Its investigative and preventive efforts were enhanced through cooperation with the Odessa and Midland Crime Stoppers programs.
  • Task Force officers promoted the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority’s HEAT [Help End Auto Theft] program and stopped vehicles displaying HEAT decals, i.e., those of consenting residents between 1:00 A.M. and 5:00 A.M. daily. The decals provide reasonable suspicion that drivers lack the authority to operate vehicles anywhere in Texas during the pertinent hours.
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