For many people, a car is one of their most expensive personal investments. In the hands of an experienced car thief, that investment could be gone in less than five minutes, according to the El Paso Police Auto Theft Task Force.
On Monday, the Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority(ABTPA) and El Paso law enforcement announced an initiative to fight auto crime throughout Texas. Although statewide auto crime has decreased by 61 percent since 1991, the most recent Crime in Texas report showed a 2.5 percent increase in auto theft.
"Auto theft is not one of those crimes that are victimless," said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen. "We all pay for it to some extent."
Auto crimes typically spike in the summer, which is why July is "Watch Your Car Month." According to ABTPA, about 65,000 cars are stolen each year in Texas. Half of those cars had the keys left inside. That's just one of the mistakes drivers make that turn their car into a target for criminals. ABTPA are starting a new educational campaign-"It's Not Rocket Science"-to make drivers aware of the small steps they can take to protect themselves and their vehicles. They also recommend: if valuables must be left in the car, keep them out of sight. The EPPD Auto Theft Task Force said thieves in the past have gone after something as small as an iPod charger or a work out bag.
El Paso public safety officials also demonstrated a license plate reader, or LPR, that attaches to the hood of patrol cars. When a stolen license plate is identified, the officer is alerted. The technology is gaining popularity in both the United States and Mexico.
El Paso Sheriff's spokesman, Mariano Valle, explained that "stolen vehicles are just the beginning for some criminals". Valle said the act is sometimes referred to as a "gateway crime" because criminals often use the cars to facilitate in home burglary or drug trafficking.
"If we can stop these criminals from stealing the vehicles in the first place, then we have a better chance of reducing these other serious and often violent crimes," Valle said.
ABTPA offered these tips to help drivers reduce their risk of becoming a victim:
1. Always lock your vehicle and take your keys.
2. Never leave your car running and unattended.
3. Park in a well-lit area.
4. Take valuables with you when you are not in your vehicle.
5. Keep your valuables out of sight.