2005 Vehicle Theft Award of Merit

Category 1 (1-250 Officers) Winners (tie):

Mesquite, Texas, Police Department, of which Gary Westphal is the Chief

This agency aimed to reduce the incidence of auto thefts occurring both in major retail areas and on new and used car lots. To that end, it formed a task force that employed the following techniques:


  • Bike patrols by officers on an overtime basis, as well as by school resource officers during the summer months and the holiday season
  • Skywatch, which provides an officer a 28-foot perch above retail areas
  • VIN-etching (83 vehicles were marked the first day it was offered, and 350 were marked during 2004.)
  • Placing marked, but recently retired squad cars as deterrents on new and used car lots, requiring participating dealerships’ confidentiality and the squad cars’ daily movement on those lots


The Mesquite Police Department reduced auto theft in the targeted areas 32 percent in 2004 over 2003 (from 99 in 2003 to 67 in 2004) and intends to expand its deployment of retired police vehicles.


Puyallup, Washington, Police Department, of which Robin T. James is the Chief

This city of 35,690 persons with 51 sworn officers recently had been receiving more than 400 stolen vehicle reports annually. The Police Department formed a Problem-Oriented-Policing (POP) Unit to address, among other issues, vehicle theft; its response included:


  • Analyzing past and present theft reports to identify those reporting areas where vehicle thefts occurred most frequently, as well as the types of vehicles stolen
  • Developing a citywide community awareness prevention plan focused on opportunistic vehicle theft: monthly presentations to the business association and to apartment managers, six presentations at community meetings held in different geographical areas of the city, and discussions during the agency’s spring and fall citizens’ police academies
  • Debriefing arrestees
  • Partnering with the LoJack Corporation to install its tracking equipment in six police vehicles
  • Publicizing the agency’s efforts in the local media
  • Distributing brochures


This agency’s efforts reduced vehicle theft in its jurisdiction 12.4 percent in 2004 over 2003 (381 vs. 435 stolen vehicles).


Category 2 (251-1,000 Officers) Winner: Corpus Christi, Texas, Police Department, of which Pete Alvarez is the Chief

The Police Department initiated both educational and enforcement strategies that reduced vehicle theft 17 percent in 2004 over 2003 and 30 percent in 2004 over 2001, the year before its efforts in this regard commenced; its recovery rate remained at 80 percent. The Department’s educational efforts included:


  • Twice weekly presentations—offered in both English and Spanish—were made to various community groups at which pertinent pamphlets were distributed and after which participants could register for H.E.A.T. [Help Eliminate Auto Theft] and could have their vehicles’ windows VIN-etched. In 2004, 6,500 persons attended these presentations, 294 of whom registered for H.E.A.T. and 626 of whom had their windows VIN-etched. No H.E.A.T.-registered or VIN-etched vehicle ever has been stolen in Corpus Christi.
  • A tag line (“Leaving your keys anywhere in the vehicle can be the start of BIG problems.”) was added to utility bills in May 2004, and 89,000 vehicle theft prevention pamphlets were distributed via those bills in July 2004.
  • A billboard rotated between twelve locations along major thoroughfares, messages displayed at a movie theater, commercials placed on television stations, and Corpus Christi’s five “most wanted” [most stolen] vehicle posters in public venues were initiated.
  • A facsimile alert system operated by new car dealers was developed to warn each other of scam artists.
  • Entering in the Buccaneer Days Parade a recovered stolen vehicle that had been stripped.

Its enforcement efforts included:

  • Vehicle theft investigators becoming available 24/7 on a callout basis
  • Other officers being apprised via e-mail of theft trends, case updates, and “hot” tips
  • A one-hour-block pertaining to vehicle theft being incorporated into the in-service training curriculum
  • A one-day regional training for law enforcement and insurance company investigators—held semiannually—being organized
  • Vehicle theft reports being referred to a crime analyst, so patterns and trends could be identified


Category 3 (1,001+ Officers) Winner: California Highway Patrol, of which Michael L. Brown is the Commissioner

Vehicle thefts in the U.S. increased 1.1 percent in 2003 over 2002, but those within the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP’s) jurisdiction rose 22 percent between 2001 and 2003. The CHP identified five major categories of vehicle theft and developed strategies to attack each:


  • Transportation Theft (where vehicles are stolen for transportation and auto burglary) accounts for 85 percent of vehicle thefts and is combated by multi-jurisdictional task forces; by “bait car” programs; by random personal watercraft and vessel inspections; and by aggressive public awareness campaigns, such as “the H.E.A.T. is on . . .” program and toll-free line on which to report vehicle theft activity and the efforts of the public affairs officers assigned to each of its 102 field offices. The CHP—in conjunction with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)—has implemented both fixed-post and mobile license plate reader systems that automatically scan registration plates and instantaneously alert officers of stolen vehicle “hits.” Moreover, it has developed a 40-hour advanced training course for investigators and patrol officers from both the CHP and allied agencies.
  • Commercial/Cargo Theft is expensive and has national and localized economic repercussions. CHP’s Cargo Theft Interdiction Program (CTIP) prevents thefts of commercial vehicles and cargoes and increases recoveries of stolen items by coordinating multi-jurisdictional investigations and by its ability to identify which stolen commercial vehicles contain cargo. Two hundred fifteen cargoes valued in excess of $12M were recovered in 2004.
  • Professional Theft/Exportation of Stolen Vehicles is addressed by multi-jurisdictional cooperative strategies to deter and recover stolen vehicles, e.g., VIN, the Vehicle Theft Investigation Training Program, the Foreign Export And Recovery (FEAR) Program, and the Mexico Liaison Program. The CHP recovered 20 percent more vehicles (with a total value of $27M) and prosecuted 143 percent more suspects in 2004 than in 2003.
  • Salvaged Vehicle Schemes (which use both stolen parts and VINs from salvaged vehicles) are handled by officers conducting inspections of salvaged vehicles prior to their being re-titled. Those inspections recovered 64 stolen vehicles in 2004 compared to 58 in 2003.
  • Insurance Fraud is investigated by CHP’s Urban Insurance Fraud Task Force Units.


The CHP’s approach and programs already are reaping benefits. The number of vehicle thefts in CHP jurisdiction declined by eight percent in 2004, the first such reduction in three years. While 15,559 vehicles were stolen in CHP jurisdiction in 2004, 26,963 were recovered. The CHP consistently recovers more than 11 percent of all vehicles stolen in that state.


Category 4 (Multi-agency task forces) Winner: Lawrence, Massachusetts, Police Department, of which Chief John J. Romero is the Chief

The Lawrence Auto Insurance Fraud Strike Force was organized following the September 2003, death of a grandmother who willingly had participated in a staged collision; its purposes were to reduce vehicle theft (Lawrence’s auto theft rate had been the second highest in the Nation.), as well as the fraud resulting from vehicle crashes in a concerted effort to annihilate Lawrence’s earned reputation as the Commonwealth’s insurance fraud capital. In addition to the Police Department, the Essex County District Attorney’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General, the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts, and insurance companies’ investigative units were represented on the Strike Force.


The introduction of the CompStat process in the Police Department resulted in vehicle thefts steadily decreasing: from 1,979 in 1999 to 597 in 2004, a 74 percent reduction. Over 86 percent of the vehicles stolen were recovered in 2003 and in 2004.


Fraudulent collisions were attacked by:

  • Enacting a state law making hiring—or acting as—a “runner” (a person who is paid to stage false collisions and to direct “clients” to healthcare providers and lawyers) a felony
  • Enabling the Commonwealth’s medical licensing boards to oversee chiropractic and physical therapy clinics
  • Implementing an insurance fraud tip reward program


The efforts of this Strike Force have resulted in 124 arrests (including chiropractors and attorneys) for filing millions of dollars worth of fraudulent claims, in a 33 percent reduction in fake collisions, in a 50 percent decrease in stolen vehicle reports, and in an estimated $25M decline in false insurance claims.

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