Brakes applied to vehicle thefts

Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren spoke at a Capitol press conference on March 13 marking the awarding of Minnesota Department of Commerce auto theft prevention grants.

Car thieves in Mille Lacs and Washington counties might find their calling a bit more risky with the awarding of dollars for programs designed to nail them.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce on Tuesday, March 13 announced the awarding of almost $4 million in auto theft prevention grants to a number of area law enforcement agencies to keep the pressure on car thieves.

According to the commerce department, about 23 cars are stolen in Minnesota every day. “That’s about one every hour,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman.

In 2010, about 8,400 vehicles worth more than $21 million in value were stolen. As shocking as these numbers might be, auto theft in Minnesota has gone down, Rothman explained.

He and others credit the prevention program as helping.

Program dollars are to be used exclusively for local programs assisting auto theft prevention education for law enforcement and the public, the investigation of prosecution of auto theft suspects, joint law enforcement efforts, and other efforts.

“This is a big deal for small towns in Central Minnesota,” said Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren, whose county was awarded a $182,000 grant.

Lindgren spoke of the use of “bait” cars — vehicles equipped with video cameras and strategically parked to lure in car thieves — as one means of nabbing the criminals. “All of this would later be presented to our juries,” he said of the compelling evidence obtainable through the use of video and sound.

In addition to a bait car, Mille Lacs County officials also plan to buy two advanced technology license plate readers to round out their auto theft prevention arsenal.

Washington County Sheriff William Hutton also appeared at the State Capitol press conference heralding the $76,000 in grants his office obtained. Washington County suffers about 250 auto thefts a year, Hutton said. He deemed the thefts “a significant event.”

Hutton spoke of the value of cutting-edge license plate technology. “We want to catch the bad guy,” Hutton said.

But a basic goal, too, is recovering the stolen vehicle.

Other area law enforcement agencies being awarded grant money include: Bloomington Police Department, $268,000; Brooklyn Center Police Department, $104,000; Anoka County Joint Law Enforcement Council, $250,000; and Washington/Anoka County attorneys, $107,000.

Rothman credits the state’s serious response to auto theft as a contributing factor in state auto insurance premium rates being in the lowest 15 states in the country.

Auto thefts in Minnesota have declined by more than 37 percent since 2004, according to the commerce department.

In that year, some 13,410 Minnesotans went to the curb, driveway or parking lot to find their vehicle missing.

According to the commerce department, the top 10 stolen vehicles in Minnesota in 2010 were: Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Chevrolet pickup, Toyota Camry, Acura Integra, Dodge Caravan, Saturn S1, Oldsmobile Cutlass/Supreme/Ciera, Ford Explorer and Toyota Corolla.

Some good antitheft steps for auto owners to follow include locking the car doors, not hiding spare keys in the car, keeping valuables out of sight and keeping the car registration out of the glove box.