By TONY EIERDAM
SAN ANTONIO — The Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority (ABTPA), part of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV), reports that auto theft in Texas has decreased 61 percent since 1991.
There were 163,837 vehicles stolen in Texas in 1991, when ABTPA was formed, and the latest figures from 2011 show that auto theft has dropped to 63,379 stolen vehicles, according to the Texas Uniform Crime Reports.
“While this is a significant decrease, Texans should not be complacent,” said Charles Caldwell, director of ABTPA. “Auto crime accounts for millions of dollars in economic losses and is a bridge to other serious crimes.”
In 2008, ABTPA added auto burglary to its purview. ABTPA also reports that auto burglaries decreased by 14.8 percent between 2008 and 2011. Auto crime includes burglaries (stealing the items inside a vehicle) and theft (stealing the entire vehicle).
“Think Like a Thief” is the campaign message Texans will see and hear around the state during “Watch Your Car Month” this July. ABTPA will use various forms of advertising as part of this educational effort. Ads will appear on gas station TVs and at movie theaters, as well as on radio and the Internet.
“We are asking Texans to use Watch Your Car Month to evaluate whether or not they’re doing all they can to reduce the likelihood that they’ll be a victim of auto crime,” said Caldwell.
Locally, Mineral Wells Police Department Chief Dean Sullivan said the two reports reflect about the same as auto burglary and theft trends in Mineral Wells.
In 2012, just 15 auto thefts occurred in Mineral wells.
"Over the past 14 years, it is has been sporadic," he said. "In 2011, we only had 23 incidents of auto theft reported, but if you compare that to 2004-05 you can see we had 54 incidents.
"It kind of runs the gambit in our community. Last year we had the lowest number of incidents since 1999."
The Chief offered many reasons as to why auto theft/burglary is down, citing education as the main reason.
"You have to look at the preventative efforts," Sullivan said. "We have sent the message out that people still need to lock their cars and take their keys. Even in a small town, any of us can create opportunities to become a victim of this type of crime. This is especially true in small towns where people feel so comfortable."
Sullivan added that he feels technology has also played a role in preventing auto theft and burglary.
"Cars are more secure now," he said. "If you go back to the (early '90s) you had a lot of very popular products like General Motors products, which were easy to steal with just a screw driver. I think the automotive industry has also made advancements with respect in trying to create deterrents and theft prevention efforts. But here, again, it is sporadic and it is hard to actually put an identified variable on it. If you ask, 'Why did this happen?' it could be societal, it could be economical, it could be ergonomic. Right now, some of our statistics do mirror the industry standards, and hopefully that trend will continue."
Sullivan also gives credit to the police officers themselves as having a big part in auto theft and burglary prevention.
"I think the law enforcement community out here – west of the Metroplex – as a whole, from this city and the contiguous counties we work together with, do an excellent job," Sullivan said. "We are working hard to keep people safe, and hopefully the people hear the message about the preventative efforts. The more we reduce opportunities, the less apt we are to be victims and we are all safer because of it."
Tips to prevent auto theft, burglary:
• Keep CDs, books, clothes and other personal belongings out of sight. Do not leave behind valuables, such as cell phones, laptops, instruments, purses or wallets.
• Stop idling. Whether you’re “warming up” your vehicle or making a quick trip inside the gas station, running vehicles left unattended become tempting targets for thieves.
• Don’t leave loose change in the console or cup holder. Thieves may break into your vehicle for a small amount of change.
• Store your garage door opener in your glove compartment or take it with you. Garage door openers allow access into your home. Thieves can use left-behind mail or an insurance card to learn your address.
• Ask valets and auto repair shops to not leave the keys in your vehicle if it will be unattended.
• Always keep your keys with you — never leave them in the vehicle.
• Lock your vehicle.
• Park in well-lit, high-traffic areas, and use a car alarm if possible.