Auto thefts down in Oklahoma City

Saturday, November 6th 2004, 5:03 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Specially equipped cars are being used to lure auto thieves in Oklahoma City, and the thieves are taking the bait.

The police department says auto thefts are down this year, bucking a national trend in which reports of stolen vehicles are increasing.

A total of 2,997 vehicles were stolen last year, with 2,255 stolen between January and September 2003. Through September of this year, 2,165 vehicles have turned up missing _ 90 fewer than the same period one year ago.

Police credit the decline to the department's Auto Theft Prevention Program.

Since April 2003, 43 people have been arrested while driving off with a police department bait car _ a vehicle designated to catch thieves. Police put global-positioning satellite systems and cameras in the vehicles and park them in high crime areas.

``As a general rule, you get more crime in the core of the city,'' police Lt. Kevin Bradbeary said.

When the door opens, Bradbeary said, the dispatcher is notified and an officer is alerted.

At the state fair this year, a man stole a bait car that officers had parked at State Fair Park, police said. He told police he was going to sell the car to buy drugs, authorities said.

A vehicle's vulnerability to theft is based on the make and model more than anything else.

And vehicle owners who leave keys in the ignition are the easiest victims of all.

``Our problem is people become a target when they park in the driveway and leave their keys in the vehicles,'' Bradbeary said. ``The auto theft rate would probably be down 30 to 40 percent if people would take their keys out of their vehicles.''

General Motors products are the most frequently stolen vehicles in Oklahoma City.

``Hondas and Acuras are stolen a lot because they are easy to steal,'' Bradbeary said.

Motor vehicle thefts were up 1.4 percent in 2003 compared to 2002 in the United States, according to the Uniform Crime Report released by the FBI in May.

Thefts were calculated from reports made to 11,921 law enforcement agencies.

Automobile owners need to be aware of vehicle thieves every day, not just during the winter and summer months when the number of thefts tend to escalate.

``There are more thefts when it is hot and real cold,'' Bradbeary said. ``We're creatures of comfort, whether we are victims or suspects. Suspects don't want to walk when it is hot or cold.''

In June, when the temperatures were mild for Oklahoma, 213 vehicles were stolen. As the temperatures got hotter in August, 269 vehicles turned up missing.

In January, when the weather was cold, the number of vehicle thefts reached 278.

The number of vehicles stolen in Oklahoma City isn't out of line for a city its size, Bradbeary said.

``We are lower in auto thefts than in Houston and San Diego,'' he said. ``At one time, Oklahoma City was lower than Minneapolis.''