County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced today a sharp drop in auto thefts in the Valley, a development he attributed to a two-pronged fight against both crime and illegal immigration. Newly released figures from the National Insurance Crime Bureau show that from 2006 to 2008, the Phoenix area fell from having the 4th highest ranking in the nation for auto theft to 19th in the nation. The number of vehicle thefts per 100,000 people dropped from 979 in 2006 to 602 in 2008, a 38% decrease. The auto theft rate has fallen 46% since 2004.
County Attorney Thomas attributed the decrease to two factors. First, police and prosecutors have cracked down on the auto theft problem in a concerted way. Police have made auto theft investigations a high priority. In 2006, Thomas formed an Auto Theft Bureau in his office. Since the establishment of the bureau, more than 3,000 defendants have been prosecuted with a conviction rate averaging 90%. And more of those convicted of auto theft offenses are going to prison. In 2004, 63% of defendants convicted of auto theft (theft of means of transportation as highest charge) were sentenced to the Arizona Department of Corrections. Today, that number has risen to 78%.
Another reason for the reduction is the unique crackdown on illegal immigration occurring in Maricopa County. In an April 13, 2009, article entitled “Auto Thefts Plague Border Region,” the Wall Street Journal noted that Mexican drug cartels are a driving force behind the stolen vehicle trade, and border cities are the hardest hit by auto theft. The article noted that nine of the ten cities with the highest rate of auto theft are in southwestern states. Yet Phoenix has fallen from 4th to 19th in only two years, despite the fact that Arizona continues to be a major corridor of operations for Mexican drug cartels and the primary funnel for illegal immigration into the country.
In Maricopa County, human-smuggling prosecutions and vigorous employer-sanctions raids by the Sheriff’s Office have led to reductions in illegal immigration, as reflected in school-district data, reduced commerce for businesses that traditionally serve illegal immigrants, and other anecdotal evidence. Other jurisdictions that are now in the top ten have not similarly cracked down on illegal immigration, and accordingly have not enjoyed the same success in combating auto theft.
Thomas stated, “Law enforcement can be proud of the stunning decrease in auto thefts we’ve achieved. In other border states, this success has been elusive. The link between crime and illegal immigration cannot be ignored. Progress is possible if we take a two-pronged approach to combating these two, related problems.”
Thomas thanked Valley police agencies for their hard work in causing vehicular theft to drop and their partnership with the County Attorney’s Office. Thomas stated, “Earlier this decade auto theft went from being a nuisance to a crisis. Valley law enforcement and this office took on the problem, and as a result the auto theft rate has plummeted. We will continue our efforts to bring that rate down even further.”