Police have been dealing with an unusual rash of auto thefts for models which might not normally gain much notice.
Rather surprisingly, Dodge Caravans and 90s model Hondas have been predominant targets.
“We haven’t had a big problem overall with auto thefts; we’ve had a problem with these specific models,” Conyers Police Lt. Jack Dunn said. “We’ve been addressing this issue all year — Hondas and Caravans and interstate access.”
In the first six months of this year, there have been 44 auto thefts and 83 entered autos within the city limits, with shopping centers and apartment complexes near the interstate providing easy targets for thieves. That’s a 46 percent increase in auto thefts over last year so far. For the same six-month period in 2011, Conyers police had handled 30 vehicle thefts and 87 entered autos.
But this is not only a Rockdale-Conyers problem, but rather an issue agencies around the metro area are seeing. To address this, Conyers police recently hosted an auto theft intelligence meeting (sponsored by Honda of Conyers) last week attended by16 auto theft detectives representing 12 different agencies. Many of the current methods, techniques and patterns of this crime were discussed and information exchanged.
Dunn said one of the patterns in these thefts is grinding off the Vehicle Identification Numbers. After the vehicles are given new false VIN numbers, the cars are then re-titled and sold on craigslist or sold for scrap metal.
One local engraving shop was even contracted to make 50 VIN plates. The owners said they were told the tags were going to be used for appliances. While authorities were not able to obtain a complete list of numbers that were made, they were able to obtain a list of about 20. Of those VINs, one was identified as already re-titled with the state. The stolen cars that have not been re-titled or located were possibly sold to salvage yards and crushed, with the thieves then collecting a fee for the recycled metal.
The following day, a 90s model Honda was stolen in the Briar Creek Subdivision. Dunn said a witness reported seeing the inoperable car taken with a tow dolly. The next morning, a detective went to Peachtree Recycling, LLC on Rogers Lake Road in Lithonia, where nine stolen cars, all Toyotas and Dodge Caravans were located. Also found on the property were 14 license plates, 11 of which were assigned to cars that were reported stolen but were not located on the property.
Dunn said the business was not cooperative. "When my detective first got there, they asked him to leave the property," Dunn said. "They turned three cars on their side, which formed a barricade. We were there for four hours before they could produce paperwork that they’re required to produce because they claimed they didn’t keep it on site."
Over the last six weeks approximately 20 stolen vehicles that were re-titled and sold have been located in cities as far away as Warm Springs and Rome, according to Dunn.
"In some cases, we felt the person (buyer) should have been suspicious of their purchases," Dunn said. "In other cases the person (buyer) didn’t have a clue it was stolen."
Dunn said one problem is that with some older-model years keys aren’t as unique as they are today. One key might work with many different cars.
With auto thefts and break-ins continuing, authorities are reminding citizens to be mindful of taking measures to prevent theft.
If owners use visual theft prevention, such as a steering column lock, or an alarm with a flashing light that is apparent, statistics show there is a much better chance of not becoming a victim, said Dunn.
To deter break-ins, Dunn encourages auto owners to lock valuables out of sight in the trunk.
"The target of a car break in is usually credit cards,” Dunn explained. “By the time (the victim) finishes their meal or shopping and find their car has been broke into, the cards have been already used usually at Stonecrest Mall or gas pumps."