Wednesday, March 4, 2009 | 11:25 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
The bad news is that last year, 11,500 cars were stolen in Las Vegas.
The good news? That's a 31 percent decrease from the previous year and the continuation of a downward trend that has knocked Las Vegas from the No. 1 ranking for auto thefts nationwide just a few years ago.
"We've come a long way, but we still have a long way to go," said Lt. Robert Duvall of the Metro Police Auto Theft Detail. "Las Vegas will never be No. 1 again in auto theft, and hopefully soon we'll be out of the top 10."
Duvall spoke to residents about auto theft and how to prevent it at Metro's "First Tuesday" meeting last night at the Enterprise Area Command, 6975 West Windmill Lane.
In 2006, Las Vegas ranked No. 1 in the number of auto thefts nationwide, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. As recently as 2005, some 20,000 cars were stolen in Metro's jurisdiction.
"We realized three things had to happen in order for that to come down," Duvall said. "Police had to do a better job, the media had to do a better job and the community had to do a better job."
He said that in 2006, Metro began re-organizing its auto theft detail from top to bottom. It is now a multi-jurisdictional task force that includes the cities of Las Vegas, Henderson and North Las Vegas.
"Clark County is our playground now," Duvall said. "We don't think about boundaries and neither do criminals."
Roughly 75 percent of auto thefts, Duvall said, are "transportation" thefts — cases in which the stolen vehicle is taken for a joy ride, used to commit other crimes or simply to get from point A to point B.
The other 25 percent, Duvall said, are "for-profit" thefts — cases in which the stolen car is stripped and its parts are sold on the black market.
The five most-stolen models in Metro's jurisdiction, Duvall said, are the 1992 Honda Accord, 1995 Honda Civic, 1991 Toyota Camry, 2003 Chevy C/K 1500 pickup and 1994 Nissan Sentra.
When asked if there are "hot zones" in the Las Vegas Valley where auto thefts occur more often, Duvall said it's hard to pin down.
"The hot zones constantly change," he said. "I'd say the majority of our auto theft cases originate from within the Enterprise, Northwest and Northeast area commands due to the sheer size of those coverage areas."
One of Metro's techniques that has proven to be highly effective, Duvall said, is the use of "bait cars."
Undercover officers wait for thieves to break into specially-designed bait vehicles, and moments after the thieves begin driving away, the car is remotely immobilized by police.
"The engine and all the electronics are shut down," Duvall said. "Sometimes we'll immobilize it right away, other times we want to see where they go. But we have complete control over it."
Duvall said motorists need to "lock, take and hide" — lock their cars, take their keys and hide valuables in their vehicles.
Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.