Number of car thefts at CSU
When Joan Williams checked the number of auto thefts on campus for the past few years, she was shocked. In four years, the number of cars stolen on campus had jumped dramatically, from only two in 2000 to 12 in 2004.
"(Auto thefts) have gone up significantly the past few years," said Williams, the records manager for the CSU Police Department.
CSUPD Detective Eric Lintz said campus car thefts are increasingly related to a demand for popular car parts at "chop shops," while in the past, thieves focused on valuables in the car, or even a simple joy ride.
"Hondas, Acuras, stuff like that. It happens overnight," Lintz said. "Lately they've gone after the car itself. They're looking for specific models."
Lintz noted one incident in which a stolen car was recovered, without some parts.
"It was stolen and recovered three weeks later in Weld County, and it had been stripped," he said.
Off campus, however, the most common reason for car thefts is simply a need for wheels, said Detective Jeff Bruce, head of Fort Collins Police Services' auto theft unit.
"The vast majority of our (stolen cars) are not taken to chop shops," he said. "They're joy rides, so to speak, and they're taken for transportation."
Because these cars are not usually taken for parts, there are not noticeable trends based on make and model, Bruce said.
"The late-model SUVs are somewhat popular, and trucks," he said, "But all kinds of vehicles are stolen."
Lintz said that car thefts and burglaries sometimes increase on campus in the days leading up to Winter Break.
"The trends we see in late November, early December, are a lot of vehicle trespass," he said. "The theory is, it's getting close to Christmas – gifts, pawning, needing money to get home."
Fortunately, Lintz said, this year the trends are different.
"We saw a little of it this year, but not as bad as in the past. There hasn't been a trend that caught our attention," he said.
Car theft is more common off campus, with more than 300 thefts reported in 2003 in Fort Collins. But in 2004, car thefts in the city were reduced. A recent change in record-keeping software makes it difficult to compare the last three months of 2003 and 2004, said FCPS crime analyst Lori Frank. Still, through September, a significant reduction was obvious: Only 207 car thefts occurred between January and September 2004, compared to 251 in the same period of 2003.
There was an 18 percent reduction in car thefts from 2003 to 2004, thanks in part to the capture of one thief who may have stolen as many as 30 of the 251 cars in 2003, Bruce said. Even without this man, the department has lowered auto thefts by 9 percent in the last year.
Bruce said there is no noticeable trend related specifically to CSU's Winter Break, but during the winter more cars are stolen after owners leave the car on to warm it up and go back inside their houses.
"In wintertime, we seem to have more thefts related to people leaving their keys in the car to warm it up," he said. "There are auto thieves that drive around looking for cars that are left running."
Bruce said it is illegal as well as inadvisable to leave a car running unattended. The law was devised to reduce thefts as well as accidents that may occur when inexperienced children come across a running car.
"It's kind of a safety issue," he said.
Bruce said the majority of thefts occur overnight and advised drivers who leave their cars outside to park in well-lit areas where thieves are less likely to steal cars. He also recommended using deterrents such as alarm systems or clubs that lock the steering wheel to prevent the car from being driven away.
Bruce also said methamphetamine use contributes to car theft, as well as a variety of other crimes.
"People that are selling or addicted to methamphetamines – they'll steal a car for transportation or to sell it to someone else," he said.