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Group: L.E. Officers Need to Focus on Auto Thefts

While "awareness" months turn the focus for law enforcement on educating their community, time can be taken by officers to also focus on honing their own skills.

July is National Vehicle Theft Protection Month and the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators wants to make sure that officers are aware of the trends and what to look for.

Christopher McDonold, member and past President of IAATI and Deputy Director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, spoke to about the importance of preventing vehicle theft.

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"When you look back at what the typical law enforcement officer used to see for auto theft was joyriding -- where an individual just takes a car from point A to point B and usually when they are done with it they'll dump it in a location and law enforcement can recover it," he said. "What we're seeing in auto theft today is more professional, organized groups where if your car is stolen, the chance of you getting your vehicle back is lower than in previous years."

McDonold said that more professional groups are being established in the United States that have ties to organized groups across the world. Vehicles are usually either being exported to other countries or cars being stolen within the U.S. and being cloned.

Cars are cloned when the identity of a legal vehicle is used for a stolen vehicle in order to make it appear to be legal. That vehicle can then be registered and sold to unknowing consumers.

McDonold said that even though auto theft numbers are down, the overall recovery rate is also down.

"We're averaging nationwide around a 52 percent recovery rate, which is one of the lowest recovery rates we've had in years," he said.

Auto theft preliminarily in 2012 went up 1.3 percent across the country, primarily in on the West coast. While other areas actually saw a decrease, the rise in vehicle thefts on the West coast was so dramatic that it led to an overall increase.

"Law enforcement is working on reduced manpower and reduced budgets, so they have to prioritize what needs to be paid attention to," McDonold said. "Obviously violent crime is number one. We look at auto theft as a gateway crime. They start at a lower level at a property crime and they work their way up into other crimes, more violent crimes.

"If we're dealing with those individuals early on, maybe they won't get to the violent crime level and cause our rates to go back up."

McDonold said that many law enforcement officers still think vehicle theft is a non-professional issue and there could be organized groups right in their backyards and that they may not have the training or know what to look for in order to identify those organized groups.

The International Association of Auto Theft Investigators offers training seminars and information on preventing and combating vehicle theft on its website.