Tempe auto thefts dropped by 16 percent last year partially because the police department sent officers to take reports instead of doing it by phone, officials said.
There were 3,215 reported auto thefts in 2002, according to FBI statistics. In 2003, the numbers fell to 2,701. Officers began talking to people faceto-face in June 2003.
The department’s main reason for changing the policy is to combat fraudulent reports, said Sgt. Joe Brosius of the Criminal Investigations Bureau. It’s easier for people to fabricate a report over the phone.
Insurance companies estimate about 5 percent to 10 percent of reports are fake, Brosius said.
Officers usually will be able to tell if the person is giving a false report, although this is not always the case, he said.
"Ninety percent of the people are great," Brosius said. "It’s a small percentage of people on the bottom trying to get something for free."
Other positives of the policy change: It has helped reduce vehicle insurance rates, the reports will be easier to follow up and officers get more contact with the public.
"We want to get that personal touch," he said. "The public expects this. I would."
Officers will be able to address personal concerns of people in a particular neighborhood, said Tempe Sgt. Dan Masters.
"It puts the officers back in touch with the people they serve," Masters said.
Officials aren’t sure how much the new policy helped drop auto theft reports. It may take more time to evaluate.
Other ways the department is now battling the crime include a "bait" vehicle, which is loaded with tracking devices to catch thieves, and etching vehicle identification numbers to windshields.
"The pendulum needs to swing back," Masters said. "It could bring skyrocketing numbers down and curb the epidemic of stolen vehicles. It’s already started to have an impact."