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Arizona ranked among worst in nation for auto theft, contributes to border crime

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — Arizona ranked No. 8 in the nation for overall vehicle thefts, according to reports from the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority.

“Auto theft has increasingly become a transnational crime, featuring very sophisticated organizations stealing vehicles in Arizona to conduct illicit activities on both sides of the border,” the 2015 report said. “Stolen vehicles are destined for foreign countries; crossing the Mexico border to the south or in shipping containers sent out of state from/to port cities.”

Vehicle theft a crime that fueled drug and human trafficking across the Mexican border as well as cost the state $86 million in economic losses.

INTERPOL also has identified vehicle theft and related criminal activity, including insurance fraud, as one of the primary funding sources for international terrorism.

More than 17,000 vehicles were stolen in Arizona in 2014, with the most auto thefts occurring in Maricopa County.

The state ranks No. 11 in the country for vehicle thefts per capita, just behind the District of Columbia, Washington, California, Nevada and New Mexico, according to the report.

“It’s a border issue, we have the same issues as well as California, as well as Texas,” Capt. Sean Carney of the Arizona Department of Public Safety said. DPS has about a 38 to 40 percent recovery rate for the stolen vehicles it investigates, he added.

During fiscal year 2015, the AATA Vehicle Theft Task Force reported the recovery of 1,023 stolen vehicles valued at over $11 million.

The task force reported 241 auto theft-related arrests, investigated 15 stolen automobile chop shops and found 152 cases of altered or switched Vehicle Identification Numbers.

“People buy their cars and park it someplace and it gets stolen…It upsets your life, your day-to-day activities, your job,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.

The 1997 Honda Accord, 1998 Honda Civic, 2006 Chevrolet Pickup, 2003 Ford Pickup and 2005 Dodge Pickup were the most frequently stolen automobiles in Arizona, according to the AATA report.

“The biggest thing when we are talking about the Phoenix area and stolen vehicles is that a lot of these newer homes, you can’t fit these big trucks in the garage,” said Fred Zumbo, AATA executive director.

Zumbo said the big trucks are often used as vehicles for smuggling by cartels because of their storage space.

Experts said one of the best ways to prevent theft is to pay attention to where a vehicle is parked.

“You know if there’s a car thief out there and they look in a vehicle and they see an alarm, they’re going to pick the next car,” said Lt. Mike Pooley, spokesman for the Tempe Police Department. “If they see a vehicle that’s parked in the dark compared to a car that’s parked underneath a lot of light at night, they’re going to pick the car that’s in the dark so they don’t get caught.”

Measures such as buying a car alarm, putting a locking mechanism on the steering wheel or parking closer to businesses in parking lots can help prevent theft, he said.

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