When the calendar turned to March last year, COVID-19 cases weren’t the only thing that started going up in Golden. Car thefts also saw a marked increase both in the city and throughout the Denver …
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When the calendar turned to March last year, COVID-19 cases weren’t the only thing that started going up in Golden.
Car thefts also saw a marked increase both in the city and throughout the Denver metro area, a trend local law enforcement experts attribute to everything from the pandemic’s impact on everything from county jail space to the way people are spending their time.
The Golden Police recorded 102 vehicle automobile thefts in 2020, said Mike Greenwell during a public meeting on March 18. Greenwell is a commander with the Lakewood Police who also serves as the commander of the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, a joint effort of officials from different Denver metro law enforcement agencies who investigate car thefts.
That 102 thefts figure represents a 79% increase in car thefts from 2019, given Golden the seventh highest such increase among the communities that are included in the task force. That increase came after the number of car thefts decrease 12% from 2017 to 2018 and 3% from 2018 to 2019.
“You guys (Golden) were doing a really good job up until 2020 came along,” said Greenwell.
The increase in car thefts in Golden was consistent with a broader increase in such thefts across both Jeffco and the entire Denver metro area. According to Greenwell, car thefts increased by 56% in Jeffco in 2020 and 54.8% across the task force’s six counties. The total number of cars stolen in those counties was 20,185, according to the task force’s data.
Those thefts add up to a big - and often underestimated - cost for communities, Greenwell said. Each year, the FBI does an analysis of how much the average stolen costs both the owner and the community when everything from the cost of law enforcement time to lost productivity from losing access to a vehicle to property damage, is totaled together.
For 2019, the most recent year for which such a figure has been calculated, that number was $8,886 per theft. That means the total cost of Golden’s thefts using that figure was $906,372.
So where are those thefts happening? Greenwell said his agency’s data shows the most common location for a car to be stolen from is a parking location, such as a parking garage or lot. The vast majority of the remaining thefts occur when the car is stolen either from the owner’s home or else from a street or roadway.
Golden Police Commander Drew Williams said residents can also gain more insight hotspots for care theft within Golden by visiting lockdownyourcar.com, a car theft database paid for by a surcharge on auto insurance policies.
According to the database, car thefts occur all over Golden but some of the biggest hot spots are around downtown and along South Golden Road.
While there are several factors that have influenced the recent rise in car thefts, among the biggest was the institution of policies at jails in Jeffco and other counties limiting the crimes that people who were arrested could be jailed for.
Those policies, which were intended to limit the number of people in the jails to provide more space for social distancing, typically listed auto thefts as among the arrests that were no longer being accepted into the jail.
“We had one situation where we arrested a young man in a stolen car and we took him in, we booked him and we released him pending charges,” said Greenwell. “We have him on video two hours later stealing another vehicle from a Walmart.”
In Jeffco, those restrictions have since been loosened allowing the county to again jail those arrested for car theft and leading to hope that the theft numbers will start to decline. Police-initiated contacts also decreased sharply for much of the pandemic but have again started to rebound now that officers have been able to get vaccinated.
However, Greenwell said there are also factors behind the increase, including increased desperation of those who have lost jobs or faced economic challenges, and more time spent at home that could last several months or more.
“We’ve had more people staying at home where their cars are sitting in parking lots and not being used and sometimes people wouldn’t know their car had been stolen for days,” he said.
But regardless of what happens with car theft numbers as the COVID-19 crisis comes to an end, Greenwell said there are several common-sense steps all residents can and should take to reduce their risk.
Those steps include taking keys and other valuables out of the car, avoiding leaving a turned-on vehicle unattended to warm up on cold or hot days, making sure key fobs for newer cars are kept far enough inside a residence that a thief would not be able to steal a car because the fob is nearby and investing in a theft prevention device such as a steering wheel immobolizer.
In Golden, the police department has a limited supply of those immobilizers that are given out to residents. Residents can request an immobilizer by calling the police department at 303-384-8045.
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