Thieves in Scottsdale have distinguished themselves from their cohorts in neighboring cities by what they steal: Precious stones from upscale homes and bronze sculptures in art galleries.
However, when it comes to stealing vehicles, Scottsdale’s criminals follow the path of least resistance.
A Tribune analysis of Scottsdale vehicle theft data for 2005 found the models most likely to be swiped are Honda Civics and Accords — no different than anywhere else.
So while the city is home to several high-end dealerships moving Porsches and Maseratis onto Scottsdale’s streets, auto thieves are not targeting those models in large numbers. Nor are they venturing up to the city’s northern reaches, the analysis found.
Only about 80 vehicles were reported stolen last year north of the Central Arizona Project Canal, where the city’s largest and most expensive homes are, out of 1,189 documented vehicle thefts.
“Bad guys — I don’t want to say they’re smart — but they’re not stupid,” said Sgt. Tom Macari, head of Scottsdale police’s auto crimes unit.
Vehicle theft is largely a crime of opportunity, Macari said. Civics and similar sedans are easier to break into than more expensive models that often feature complex entry devices, alarms and tracking systems.
Plus, there are a lot more of them, Macari said. “If I want a Mercedes 450SL, I’m going to have to drive around a lot longer to find one,” he said.
Enrique Cantu, executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, said luxury vehicles may not rise up the list of most-stolen cars, but they are still targeted.
“There is a market for your Jags, your Escalades,” Cantu said, adding that Scottsdale is a prime location to find such cars.
In 2005, there were seven Cadillac Escalades reported stolen in Scottsdale, the data shows.
Theft of luxury cars is a far more precise science, he said. The criminals will find the exact car they are seeking, follow the owner to his or her workplace and determine the best time to make off with it.
“Believe me, there are people who are doing that” in Scottsdale, Cantu said.
North Scottsdale is not free of vehicle theft, the Tribune’s analysis found, but the crime occurs at a much higher rate in the areas zoned for commercial and industrial uses south of where Loop 101 bisects the city.
In nonresidential areas last year, cars were stolen at a rate of 13.38 per square mile — almost twice the rate in residential communities.
At General Dynamics’ large employee parking lot, 8201 E. McDowell Road, a string of auto thefts began in December. It continued early this year until about a dozen vehicles had been stolen, Macari said.
“When you put four or five thousand cars in one area, it’s like a kid in a candy store,” he said. “You’re looking for an F-250? You’re sure to find one.”
The parking lots at apartment complexes and shopping centers offer thieves a wide supply and relative anonymity, Macari said.
Scottsdale Fashion Square mall led all locations in the city for vehicle thefts last year, with 17 reported, the data shows.
Linda Whitlow, a spokeswoman for the mall, said all garages are regularly patrolled and well lit to limit the number of vehicles stolen.
On Thomas Road, near the city’s border with Phoenix, Sycamore Creek led all Scottsdale apartment complexes in 2005 with 12 reported thefts. Erica McIntire, Sycamore Creek’s manager, argued that all nearby apartments suffer the same crime problem as hers.
McIntire said she does not know why her complex was more prone to the crime. “It usually doesn’t happen during the day,” she said. “It happens at night when we’re closed.”
Dealerships reported some of the highest numbers of stolen vehicles, the analysis found.
That does not mean all those reports actually document a theft, Macari said. When a dealership cannot locate a vehicle in its inventory, its employees will sometimes call the police to file a report, which is required to switch on most tracking systems.
Often, the car is found to be somewhere on their property within a few days.
“We can’t tell them we’re not going to take (the report),” Macari said. “If they say it’s stolen we have to believe that it’s stolen.”
Bill Heard Chevrolet, on the northeast corner of Scottsdale and McDowell roads, had 14 reported thefts, the second largest number in the city.
Howard Herman, Bill Heard’s general manager, declined comment on whether the vehicles were actually stolen from the dealership.