Stolen cars have recently become one of Douglas County law enforcement’s top priorities as thefts increase across the entire metro area with Castle Rock serving as the single exception.
Data from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (C-MATT) shows car thefts up 20% in Douglas County between 2021 and 2020, while the metro area saw a 39% increase as a whole.
Though Douglas County represents only 623 stolen cars out of the 27,409 metro area thefts, local law enforcement is reporting car theft is the top crime officers investigate.
Of the 29 reporting agencies in C-MATT’s annual report, Castle Rock was the only municipality or county to see a decrease in the number of thefts in 2021 compared to 2020 at a rate of 25%.
Cmr. Jason Lyons, of the Castle Rock Police Department, credited the difference to three main tactics, including installing a new license plate reading system, called FLOCK, at various places throughout the town.
Like license plate readers installed on police cars, the FLOCK system scans license plates that pass the stationary reader, compares it to a national database and alerts officers when a plate is reported stolen or connected to a crime, warrant or missing person. ]
Lyons estimated officers receive several alerts on a daily basis they follow up on.
“Our officers will respond to the general area (of the specific license plate camera) and be on the lookout for that vehicle,” he explained. “We’re getting suspects arrested and vehicles recovered because we’re able to respond to an area in real time after being notified of a stolen car.”
With the real-time data, Lyons said officers are having more success arresting a person in connection with the theft as opposed to only recovering the stolen car. C-MATT data shows Castle Rock police recovered 79% of stolen cars within 30 days, which aligns with other Douglas County law enforcement recovery rates.
The C-MATT report doesn’t break down arrests by jurisdiction, but reports a total of 246 arrests in 2021 from the 29 agencies included in the report.
“Many of those bad guys, we’re catching – we’ve recovered 1,000 grams of drugs, eight weapons, we’ve arrested people on 85 warrants, so it’s hugely successful,” Lyons said. “If someone is not actively apprehended while in possession of that motor vehicle and it gets dumped and then recovered later, it’s really hard to tie a person to that vehicle.”
Currently, Castle Rock is the only department in Douglas County to be using the FLOCK system, which was first installed in May 2021. Lyons said he expects the department will formally review the success of FLOCK after the one-year mark.
“It’s certainly not the only piece of the puzzle, but it is timely the fact that we deployed this technology and are seeing double-digit reductions in crime,” he said.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, Lone Tree Police Department and Parker Police Department all use license plate readers in patrol cars, though each department said it was evaluating whether to invest in the FLOCK system.
Lone Tree currently has two patrol cars equipped with license plate readers, while Parker police just doubled their equipped patrol cars from two to four because of the uptick in thefts, said Josh Hans, the public information officer for the Parker Police Department.
“We wanted to be able to increase the coverage and be able to have one out on the road at all times,” Hans said.
With the added help of the license plate reading technology, every department noted that sharing information and partnering with other agencies is another crucial piece to successfully investigating car thefts.
Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said a majority of stolen cars are used to commit other crimes, oftentimes in other communities. Hans said cars recovered in Parker frequently have illegal drugs in them.
The sheriff’s office estimates about half of the recovered cars are stolen from outside their jurisdiction and cars taken from Douglas County are equally likely to be found elsewhere.
“What we see is people steal cars from the Denver metro area and bring them down here to use the car in a crime and then steal a car from here to go back up to the Denevr area,” he said.
Castle Rock, Lone Tree and Parker likewise see thefts as a regional problem.
Sharing stolen car information among agencies not only increases the number of eyes on the lookout, Spurlock said, but also helps police identify and saturate areas of concern.
In Parker, Hans said those areas tend to be in large retail parking lots and fitness centers.
“We are increasing our patrols in those lots so we’re able to find the vehicles when the person is in them or in the store and we can get them when they come out,” he said.
The last key law enforcement cited in solving thefts is community help. As Castle Rock has seen by the implementation of FLOCK , the sooner officers are made aware of a car being stolen or a suspicious incident, the more likely they are to recover the car or make an arrest.
“The community acts as a force multiplier, our eyes and ears when we aren’t there,” Lyons, said.
Spurlock encouraged people to report stolen cars right away with the license plate number so information can be spread to police.
Similarly, Lone Tree Police Department Cmr. David Brown said reports of abandoned vehicles and people checking car doors have helped his department’s investigations.
“To be successful at solving any crime, you have to have strong partnerships with your community members and business partners,” Brown said.
A large majority of stolen cars are crimes of opportunity, Spurlock explained, citing unlocked doors, people leaving keys in the car and leaving the car running as common factors in thefts.
“We’ve seen people walk right past a car that they try to open up and it’s locked, they move on to the next one,” he said.
Spurlock, Brown and Lyons pointed to lower accountability for property crimes, which allows for repeat offenders, as one factor that may be contributing to the recent rise in car thefts.
Parker’s Hans also noted the pandemic and concurrent economic downturn seemed to also be a factor, though Spurlock disagreed.
“Our legislature has put Colorado in harm’s way and they have reduced the accountability and responsibility for criminals,” he said.
Regardless of the causes though, all of the law enforcement agencies encouraged people to remember to lock their cars and protect their valuables.