COLORADO, USA — Car theft in Colorado has been steadily increasing since 2012, but now it's also getting more violent.
The Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Taskforce (C-MATT) said by the end of the year, it's estimated 41,600 cars will be stolen statewide. That's a 12% increase from last year. From 2020 to 2021, there was a 31% increase.
At least twice in the last couple of weeks, police have returned fire after being shot at or hit by suspects where a stolen vehicle was involved.
One Denver officer was shot in the neck and is now recovering.
On Sunday, the driver of a stolen vehicle hit an ambulance in Lakewood, sending two firefighters to the hospital.
In November, Lafayette resident Stacie Kirtley's car, a 1988 Toyota Camry, was stolen twice in five days. She found out it was stolen for the second time after her brother saw it on TV.
"So sure enough there's my car, police tape around," she said.
The second time around, her car had gone through a lot more violence.
Police tracked the car to a gas station. It ended with an officer getting shot in the leg and police shooting and killing the suspect in the front seat of Kirtley's car.
"Auto theft is a part of public safety, and until we address it, we're not going to see other crimes go down either," Commander Mike Greenwell with C-MATT said.
Greenwell said incidents involving stolen cars are becoming more dangerous.
"They're more bold and they're more willing to commit worse acts because they believe they're not going to go to jail," he said. “We know that 74% of the people that get arrested for auto theft are also charged with another felony crime of some type. The vast majority of those are violent crimes."
Greenwell said car thieves are shooting off guns to distract police or intentionally ramming into vehicles to get away.
He said they've already recovered 70 firearms off of suspected car thieves this year. Last year, they recovered 62.
"I think auto theft needs to be considered more than just a property crime," Greenwell said. "We have offenders tell us, 'Just let me go. You know I'm not going to stay in jail. You know I'm not going to be sent to prison.'"
Greenwell said there needs to be tougher punishments for car thieves.
"We changed the bond structure, and so because it’s property crime they’re not going to be held on bond. They’re not going to be held accountable," he said. “So, what’s the repercussion? I steal a car, what’s going to happen?”
Greenwell said the estimated number of cars stolen this year translates into a $382 million impact to our communities.
"I think what a lot of people forget about are the cars that are stolen, that's people's livelihoods. That's their means of transportation to work," Greenwell said.
That dollar amount includes law enforcement and judicial services, as well as the cost to car owners in terms of damage, insurance rates going up and lost wages, among other things.
Greenwell said guns should not be stored in unattended cars.
“We have a large number of vehicles that get broken into, get stolen, where owners are leaving their guns in their cars," he said. “We have guns that are out there again that law enforcement is recovering or getting shot at with.”
Greenwell said there's a lot you can do to help deter criminals from stealing your car. He said most auto thefts are crimes of opportunity, so to reduce those opportunities, you should:
- Always lock your car and take your keys with you.
- Remove all valuables from your car.
- Park in a well-lit area.
- Use some type of security device, like a steering wheel club.
- If you have access to a garage, park in the garage.
Greenwell said to check with your local police department to see if they offer free steering wheel clubs.
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