Auto thefts in Douglas County consume law enforcement

McKenna Harford [email protected]

Stolen cars have recently become one of Douglas County’s top law enforcement priorities with thefts increasing across the entire metro area with Castle Rock being the only exception.

Data from the Colorado Automobile Authority’s Metropolitan Motor Vehicle Theft Task Force (C-MATT) shows auto theft increased 20% in Douglas County between 2021 and 2020, while the metro area saw a 39% increase as a whole.

Although Douglas County accounts for only 623 of the 27,409 stolen vehicles in the metro area, local law enforcement reports auto theft and is the highest-grossing crime officer.

Of the 29 agencies reported in C-MATT’s annual report, Castle Rock was the only municipality or county that saw a 25% decrease in the number of burglaries in 2021 compared to 2020.

Summer. Jason Lyons, of the Castle Rock Police Department, attributed that difference to three main tactics, including installing a new license plate reading system, called FLOCK, at various locations around the city.

Like license plate readers installed on police cars, the FLOCK system scans license plates that pass the stationary reader, compares them to a national database and alerts officers when they report a plate theft or related to a crime, warrant or missing person. ]

Lyons estimates that officers receive several alerts on a daily basis that they follow.

“Our officers will respond to the public area (of the license plate camera) and search for that vehicle,” he explained. “We are apprehending suspects and recovering vehicles because we are able to respond to an area in real time after being notified of a vehicle theft.”

With the real-time data, Lyons said, officers had more success in apprehending someone in connection with the theft than merely recovering the stolen vehicle. C-MATT data shows Castle Rock Police recovered 79% of stolen cars within 30 days, which is consistent with law enforcement recovery rates in other Douglas County.

The C-MATT report does not break down arrests by jurisdiction, but reports a total of 246 arrests in 2021 from the 29 agencies listed in the report.

“A lot of these bad guys got caught — we got 1,000 grams of drugs back, eight guns, and we arrested people under 85 warrants, so we’ve had a huge success,” Lyons said. “If someone wasn’t caught in possession of that car and it was dumped and then later retrieved, it’s really hard to hook someone into that car.”

Currently, Castle Rock is the only department in Douglas County to use the FLOCK system, which was first installed in May 2021. Lyons said he expects the department to formally review FLOCK’s success beyond the one-year mark.

“It’s certainly not the only piece of the puzzle, but the time is the fact that we’ve deployed this technology and we’re seeing a twofold decrease in crime,” he said.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Lone Tree Police Department and the Parker Police Department all use license plate readers in their patrol cars, though each department said it was evaluating the investment in the FLOCK system.

Josh Hans, the Parker Police Department’s media officer, said the Lone Tree currently has two patrol cars equipped with license plate readers, while Parker Police has doubled its equipped patrol cars from two to four due to a slight increase in thefts.

“We wanted to be able to increase coverage and be able to be on the road at all times,” Hans said.

With the help of the added license plate reading technology, each department noted that sharing information and partnering with other agencies is another important part of a successful car theft investigation.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the majority of stolen cars are used to commit other crimes, often in other communities. Hans said the cars recovered at Parker often contained illegal drugs.

The sheriff’s office estimates that about half of the recalled cars were stolen outside of its jurisdiction, and it’s also likely that cars from Douglas County will be found elsewhere.

“What we see is people steal cars from the Denver metro area and bring them down here to use the car for a crime and then they steal a car from here to get back to the Denver area,” he said.

Similarly, Castle Rock, Lone Tree, and Parker see thefts as a regional problem.

Sharing information about stolen cars between agencies not only increases the number of eyes on the watch, Spurlock said, it also helps police identify and satisfy areas of concern.

In Parker, Hans said these areas tend to be in large retail parking lots and fitness centers.

“We are increasing our patrols of that lottery so that we can find the vehicles when the person is in them or in the store and we can get them on the way out,” he said.

The last law enforcement key cited in solving thefts is community assistance. As Castle Rock has seen through the application of FLOCK, the sooner officers learn of a vehicle theft or a suspicious accident, the more likely they are to recover the vehicle or be arrested.

“Society acts as a force multiplier, our eyes and ears when we are not there,” Lyons said.

Spurlock encouraged people to immediately report stolen cars with their license plate number so the information can be released to the police.

Similarly, Lone Tree Police Department Cmr. David Brown said reports of abandoned cars and people checking car doors helped his department’s investigation.

“To be successful in solving any crime, you must have strong partnerships with members of your community and your business partners,” Brown said.

Spurlock explained that the vast majority of stolen cars are crimes of opportunity, citing unlocked doors, people leaving keys in the car and letting the car act as common factors in thefts.

“We’ve seen people walking past a car trying to unlock it and it’s locked, moving to the next car,” he said.

Spurlock, Brown, and Lyons cited reduced accountability for property crime, allowing for repeat infractions, as a factor that may contribute to the recent rise in car thefts.

Parker Hans also noted that the pandemic and the simultaneous economic recession appear to be a factor as well, although Sperlock disagrees.

“Our legislature has put Colorado in harm’s way and reduced accountability and responsibility for criminals,” he said.

Regardless of the reasons, all law enforcement agencies have encouraged people to remember to lock their cars and protect their valuables.

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