Jeffco sheriff joins countywide auto theft task force

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By AJ Vicens

Car thieves in Jeffco now must combat a much more organized police presence.

The Jefferson County Regional Auto Theft Task Force, which launched July 1, teams car-theft investigators from the Jeffco Sheriff's Office and police from Arvada, Lakewood and Wheat Ridge.

"This is a tremendous opportunity to get aggressive on auto theft using a multifaceted team approach," said Commander Mike Becker of the Lakewood Police Department. "We will be better equipped to target, arrest and get the bad guys, those career criminals, off the streets, and at the same time educate our citizens so they can be more aware and don't make themselves easy targets for auto theft."

Becker will head up the new seven-member car theft investigation squad, which is funded by a grant of nearly $920,000 from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority. The funding runs through June 2010. At that point, the task force will either have to reapply for funding or find other resources.

The grant funds come from insurance companies, which charge $1 for every car insured in Colorado.

Statistically, one in every 255 Jeffco residents, including residents in cities within Jeffco, has a car stolen every year, according to data compiled by the new county task force. That is higher than the rate for the rest of the state, which is one in every 358 residents. The Denver area has the highest auto-theft rate in the state, accounting for more than 76 percent of all Colorado car thefts.

According to the task force, car thefts throughout Jeffco have decreased nearly 40 percent since the beginning of 2006, but the number of stolen cars recovered has dropped by nearly half. So even though fewer cars are being stolen, more of the stolen cars remain lost to owners forever, driving up everybody's insurance costs.

Jeffco sheriff’s spokesman Jim Shires said the task force will be working to get to the root of the problem.

"They're not going to be concerned about the teenager that steals mom and dad's car," Shires said. "They're trying to focus on chop shops, resales and trying to track down how the organization of stolen automobiles works."

Shires said about 20 cars per month are stolen in unincorporated Jefferson County, and most of those thefts occur in South Jeffco. That part of the county has a slightly higher income range, and typically thieves can find nicer cars to steal, Shires said.

He added that the task force is partially a product of the economy.

"When you're looking at today's economy, more and more jurisdictions are sharing resources," Shires said. "That way there's less impact on one agency."

The lagging economy also invites more auto theft, according to the board president of the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority.

"The bad economy threatens to increase Colorado's auto theft problem at a time when local law enforcement has been forced to slash budgets for auto-theft investigators and resources," said Matt Cook.

Shires said the Jeffco sheriff has one full-time auto-theft investigator that will now be assigned to the countywide task force.

Hopefully, a more coordinated front for investigating auto thefts, including better tracking of evidence, trends and locations, will lead to better results for police agencies, Shires said.

"The more information that's shared between agencies, the better the outcome for the agencies involved and citizens," Shires said. "I think this is a great thing."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier.com for updates and breaking news.