Stolen vehicles continue to be a problem in Summit County, according to local law enforcement leaders.
After an increase in stolen vehicles in the area earlier this year, Summit County’s law enforcement agencies urged residents to take more care to make sure their cars are properly secured. According to Silverthorne Police Chief John Minor, the problem has persisted, and it isn’t just a local one.
“It’s still an issue,” Minor said. “… From what we hear, this is an issue statewide. Motor vehicle thefts are going through the roof; crime rates are going through the roof.”
There was a notable upward trend in the amount of car thefts in the state last year. There were a total of 27,738 stolen vehicles in Colorado in 2020, according to data from the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority, which is part of the Department of Public Safety. Between 2017 and 2019, there were an average of 20,757 stolen vehicles each year. There have been at least 5,416 in the first two months of this year.
Likewise, thefts of items from on or inside a vehicle also saw an increase in 2020, with a total of 33,827 reported cases in the state compared to an annual average of 28,732 from 2017 through 2019.
Nationally, the number of auto thefts grew from just under 800,000 in 2019 to more than 873,000 in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
“I have a high level of concern,” Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “We’re not only working with our local law enforcement partners but state and federal resources, as well. This is happening from the Front Range all the way to the Utah border, and it could be beyond. … I think the spree that happened at the end of 2020 came into 2021. Arrests are being made across Colorado, but it doesn’t seem to be stemming the tide.”
There have been at least 27 stolen vehicles reported this year to law enforcement agencies in Summit County, according to data provided by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office. At least 16 of those vehicles have been recovered, either in Summit County or elsewhere.
Minor said there have been 10 vehicle thefts so far this year in Silverthorne alone. For comparison, the town had 27 total in all of 2020. Minor noted that based on trends the police department has noticed, the thieves have targeted certain kinds of trucks that are easier to punch the locks and the ignition cylinder on.
Officials also said they believed the thieves are targeting catalytic converters, exhaust emission control devices under cars that contain valuable metals, and that the efforts appear to be organized in some fashion.
“The trend seems to be continuing that they’re after the metals in these catalytic converters,” FitzSimons said. “… It definitely appears that it’s organized at some level, organized to the point where there definitely seems to be a pattern of stealing and recovering cars, and then cars having the catalytic converters stolen off. Could you have crimes of opportunity mixed into that? Of course, but it definitely seems organized by the sheer volume.”
FitzSimons said he’s seen different motor vehicle theft patterns emerge in his career, including everything from thieves targeting air bags to high-end stereos to sell on the secondary market. He noted that he’d never seen car thefts at this level in Summit County before.
“Over the years, you definitely see different trends,” FitzSimons said. “But this is a new one. You figure that it only takes a few minutes to crawl under a car and saw off someone’s catalytic converter, but what an awkward thing to have to do without getting caught or the risk of getting caught.”
Officials recommended community members take steps to make sure their vehicle isn’t an easy target, including parking under a light, if possible, and ensuring there are no valuables inside the car, the car is locked and there isn’t a key anywhere on the vehicle. Law enforcement leaders also urged residents to report any suspicious activity.
“I’ve lived in Summit County for 30 years, and it’s changed,” Minor said. “People leaving their doors unlocked, people leaving their vehicles unlocked — those days are long gone. They have been long gone for a long time. And if you want to save yourself a major headache trying to recover your vehicle … then do those simple things.”