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$1 goes a long way in fighting auto theft
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With over 700 bills sitting on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk waiting to be signed or vetoed in the latest version of partisan politics between the Governor and the State Legislature, sheriffs and other law enforcement leaders from around the state have joined forces to urge the Governor to put aside political haggling and sign a critical yet obscure bill, Assembly Bill 286. Frankly, there are a dozen or so bills of importance to day-to-day operations of law enforcement agencies across this state that require and deserve the Governor's signature.
Assembly Bill 286 by Assemblymember Mary Salas (D-Chula Vista) and Assemblymember Dave Jones (D- Sacramento) is a bill that would extend the sunset date from 2010 to 2018 which authorizes counties to impose a $1 vehicle registration surcharge to fund auto theft suppression efforts, prevention, education, and prosecution programs. AB 286 is a combined effort by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, and San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and is supported by dozens of police chiefs and sheriffs from throughout California.
Funding auto theft programs through this type of surcharge began back in 1990 when the state, facing another fiscal crisis, cut vital funding to cities and counties. As a result police and sheriff departments began cutting specialty units such as those used to combat auto theft. In response, former State Senator Ed Davis (R-Los Angeles), and the former Los Angeles Police chief, introduced a bill that authorized counties to impose a $1 fee on vehicle registrations to pay for regional auto theft task forces. The bill included a sunset provision so that every few years, the Legislature could re-examine the program, make sure the money was going to the intended programs, evaluate the programs and vote on whether or not to continue to authorize counties to collect this $1 fee to combat auto theft. The bill was signed by then Gov. George Deukmejian. Since 1990, governors Wilson (1995), Davis (1999) and Schwarzenegger (2004) have signed legislation to continue funding for the regional auto theft task forces. Currently, 47 counties in California authorize this fee and operate regional auto theft task forces, including Stanislaus County.
Vehicle theft is a serious multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise. In 2008, there were over 200,000 vehicle thefts in California at a cost of more than $1.3 billion dollars. California has more vehicle thefts than any other state in the nation and also has the highest vehicle theft rate in the nation. Seven of the top 11 cities for auto theft rates in the nation are here in California.
Over the last 15 years a new breed of auto theft has evolved. Not only do you have your old-fashioned car thief who breaks a window, hot wires the ignition and steals your car, but we now face a more sophisticated car thief that looks for specific vehicles to steal and send to so called “chop shops” that cut out various parts of the car for sales both domestically and internationally. And we now we also face the biggest challenge to auto theft, the vast international car theft rings that steal not only a car, but your identity as well. These elaborate and organized auto theft rings, steal a person’s identity, purchase a car from an unsuspecting car dealership, and then drive the new car to a cargo container, load it on a ship and send it to destinations unknown. Recently, in Los Angeles, sheriffs’ deputies, and police officers assigned to a regional auto theft task force intercepted such a ship as it was attempting to depart the Port of Los Angeles with hundreds of stolen vehicles inside of it.
Auto theft task forces are a vital component in combating auto theft. Two of the largest task forces in the state have been very successful in combating auto theft. In 1993, Los Angeles County created the Taskforce for Regional Auto Theft known as TRAP. Since 1993, TRAP has made 8,260 arrests, served 3,407 warrants, inspected 3,672 businesses and recovered 21,929 stolen vehicles valued at over $374 million dollars. In San Diego County, the regional auto theft task force last year alone recovered 319 vehicles worth over $3.3 million dollars and successfully prosecuted over 100 cases. Here in Stanislaus County, STANCATT (Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce) continues to work fighting auto theft. Our partnership between law enforcement, probation, the district attorney and the courts has proven very effective. Locally, our auto theft rates have declined 17 percent through August 2009.
AB 286 is perhaps the most important public safety bill on the Governor’s desk. If Gov. Schwarzenegger fails to sign this bill, hundreds of police officers, deputy sheriffs, California Highway Patrol officers and other investigators who are currently assigned to auto theft task forces throughout California will be forced to stop their efforts in combating auto theft in California. These auto theft task forces will be forced to shut down and the reduction in revenue will force agencies to lay off even more officers.
Given the current economic climate and law enforcement agencies throughout California, cutting vital public safety services and laying off hundreds of peace officers now is not the time to allow another critical public safety service to be cut. Without these regional auto theft task forces, law enforcement will lose its most valuable tool to combat auto theft in California. We urge the Governor to sign AB 286 now.
— Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson and the California State Sheriffs’ Association