Texas county may continue
auto theft task force

(TARRANT COUNTY, Texas) -- Tarrant County Commissioners will consider Tuesday whether to approve an agreement to continue a countywide auto theft task force.

The task force - credited with a 62 percent drop in the auto theft rate from 1991 to 1999 - is funded by a grant from the Texas Automobile Theft Prevention Authority and local support. The authority funds are derived from a $ 1-a-year surcharge on auto insurance policies.

Officials said the need for the task force is still great. For example, the number of cars stolen in Arlington has increased this year.

Arlington police have responded to 1,140 stolen car complaints between January 2000 and July 2000, the most recent statistics available, compared to 952 during the same period last year.

Officials said they cannot pinpoint why there has been a spike in car thefts but added that assistance by the Tarrant County Auto Theft Task Force provides additional manpower in recovering stolen vehicles.

"They're beneficial because they provide necessary assistance to us that we wouldn't have any other way," Arlington police Sgt. James Hawthorne said. "They have a staff that can devote more time on cases."

In addition to Arlington, other agencies involved in the task force are the Tarrant County Sheriff's Department, the Tarrant County district attorney's office and the cities of Fort Worth, Azle, Benbrook, Euless, Haltom City, Hurst, River Oaks, Westworth Village and White Settlement.

Tarrant County is the only large county in the state to have such an initiative funded through the state authority. Most cities, such as Dallas, operate on a city level.

Countywide cooperation is key to the success of the auto theft task force, said Cmdr. Jerry McCurry, who heads the unit.

"We are an extra punch in the effort to combat auto theft," Cmdr. McCurry said. "We were not created to take the place of local agencies. We are extras dedicated to helping them out."

Marti VanRavenswaay, the county commissioner who represents Arlington, could not be reached for comment at her office Monday.

Officials said the county's motor vehicle theft rate declined 62 percent between 1991 and December 1999.

From 1991 through May 2000, task force officers have arrested and filed criminal charges on nearly 700 defendants. They inspected more than 19,000 vehicles or parts at more than 1,500 locations. The force recovered 1,071 stolen vehicles, valued at $ 11.7 million.

The task force concentrated its enforcement on professional thieves, so-called "chop shops," and auto parts and repair businesses.

Along with recovering vehicles, the task force trains local police officers in many areas, including how to spot stolen cars when a vehicle identification number has been altered. They also launch public education campaigns.

One of the advantages of the task force, Cmdr. McCurry said, is its officers have countywide jurisdiction as opposed to officers whose duties are limited to their city.

The most commonly stolen vehicle in Tarrant County is the General Motors' Chevrolet pickup, McCurry said.

Officers have also discovered that 20 percent of cars stolen had the keys in them.

Older cars also are targets for thieves, Cmdr. McCurry said. Innovations in newer model cars, such as automatic locks and kill switches, are deterrents.

(iSyndicate; The Dallas Morning News; Oct. 31, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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