A state senator thinks he’s found a way to reduce Arizona’s sky-high rate of vehicle theft: change the method in which people report their vehicles stolen.
Legislation crafted by Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, would require people who report their vehicles stolen to file a formal affidavit with the police department. Now a phone call to police is all it takes.
Gray said the change would deter people who, because of financial troubles, arrange to have someone else steal their vehicles or simply take it out into the desert and torch it themselves.
Enrique Cantu, executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, said he has no way of knowing how many of the nearly 55,000 vehicles reported stolen in 2005 were due to fraud. But he said making it a Class 3 felony to file a false vehicle theft report — with a 3 1/2 year prison term — should make a difference.
“So it becomes a law-enforcement tool to have people rethink reporting a vehicle stolen that they know isn’t stolen,” Cantu said.
Arizona has been at or near the top of stolen vehicle list nationwide for years.
In 2005, the number of cars and trucks that disappeared in Arizona translated into a rate of 924 per 100,000 residents. That was second only to Nevada.
The Valley has 1,110 thefts per 100,000 residents, a figure that, depending on whose statistics are used, puts the community at fourth or fifth in the nation.
Cantu said laws similar to Gray’s proposal have been effective in other states. He said a similar program started six years ago by the Miami-Dade Police Department in south Florida cut the number of reports of stolen vehicles in half, to about 20,000 a year.
Phoenix police Sgt. Joel Tranter said until sometime last year his department would not always send an officer out to investigate when someone reported a stolen vehicle. He said that occurred most often when the person said he or she just woke up, looked in the driveway and the vehicle was gone — cases where there would be no physical evidence.
Now Phoenix police require owners to sign an affidavit, not only verifying the theft but also saying they will aid in prosecution.
In some precincts, Tranter said, the number of reported thefts was down between 10 percent and 15 percent. Citywide the decline is closer to 5 percent.