City police ask for $600,000 to fund auto theft programs

Julia Brouillette

The Austin Police Department hopes to receive over $600,000 from the Texas Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority — also known as ABTPA — to fund its Auto Theft Interdiction Project, which has been a part of the agency for 16 years.

Austin City Council authorized the department’s application for the funds, which are allocated by the ABTPA through auto insurance fees, in its meeting Thursday. The department depends on the grant to fund initiatives such as the Vehicle Identification Number etching program, according to APD Sgt. Robert Smith.

“If it weren’t for the Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority, there would be no VIN etching,” Smith said. “Maybe cities and counties would pitch in for it, but, specifically, for the past 16 years, the authority has paid for VIN etching and murals on the side of buildings and billboards — anything to get folks to realize that the power to prevent auto thefts and burglaries is really on them more than it is on us.”

Any law enforcement agency within the state can apply for the grant, according to Smith.

The authority will notify grant applicants about the status of their requests in June. Smith said the department does not expect to receive the exact amount of money it applied for.

“What actually gets granted to us is probably going to be completely different,” Smith said. “It’s like going to college and requesting a grant from someone — you’re going to request $10,000, but they’re only going to give you $1,000 because they have so many other people to give to and so few resources.”

Charles Caldwell, director of ABTPA, said auto theft rates are a factor in the distribution of grants.

“We look at a number of items that they submit to us through a grant application,” Caldwell said. “It’s based on the amount of money that we have available, what their activities are and what the auto theft rate is. … We have a matrix of things we look at in order to make that determination.”

Fewer auto thefts occurred in Austin than in Dallas and San Antonio in the first three months of 2014. The difference between the number of auto thefts per capita in the four largest Texas cities — Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin — only differ by one tenth of a percent.

Smith said grant funds also pay for detective salaries and equipment used to investigate auto thefts or burglaries.

“How much money we need is going to vary each year, and it’s going to vary between agencies,” Smith said. “Personnel and the projects that we have dictate how much we ask for.”

The City pledged to match approximately 25 percent of the amount granted by the ABTPA.

“The match is the City’s commitment to saying, ‘We’re dedicated in this effort just as much as you are,’” Smith said.