APD launches campaign to address high summer car thefts

Mary Huber

The Austin Police Department Auto Theft Interdiction Project launched the “Watch Your Car” campaign this July to bring awareness to the heightened risk of car thefts and burglaries in the month of July. 

APD Sgt. Robert Smith said he thinks the high July rate can be attributed to so many people traveling during summer months and leaving their cars unattended while on vacation. In Austin, 978 vehicles were burglarized and 165 stolen in July 2013. Twenty-four of the burglaries and thefts occured in West Campus.

According to the APD crime search website, 43 vehicles were burglarized in the West Campus and North Campus areas over the past 30 days. West Campus and North Campus were the hardest hit in the area, according to the Central Austin Community Development Corporation.

Smith also said 50 percent of break-ins occur because thieves find hidden keys.

“Usually they leave their own keys in their own cars,” Smith said. “It’s hard to believe. The second most expensive thing you ever buy. And you leave your keys inside.”

According to the Auto Theft Interdiction Project, the most frequently stolen car in Austin in 2013 was the Honda Accord.

Smith said most stolen cars are taken for joy rides and later recovered. As for stolen trucks, they are often used for human smuggling and usually found down south, completely demolished. When vehicles are burglarized, Smith said it is usually because owners leave valuables in plain sight.

Journalism senior Jessica Brown said her car was burglarized last July in the parking lot of her North Austin apartment complex. Brown said the thief broke the back window and stole several shopping bags of clothing that were in plain view.

“The funny thing is I was going to donate those clothes to Buffalo Exchange,” Brown said. “If they wanted them, they could have just had them.”

Smith said large apartment complexes are magnets for burglars.

On campus, 43 vehicles were burglarized and 8 stolen in 2013. Although these numbers are not particularly higher than those of other areas of Austin, Gonzalo Gonzalez, UTPD patrol division captain, said he still believes it is important for students to practice safety measures. UTPD educates incoming freshman at summer orientation about how to best protect themselves and their property.

Meanwhile, the APD Auto Theft Interdiction Project is raising awareness with mobile billboards on taxicabs throughout the city. The department will also offer free VIN-etching services periodically this July, putting a small imprint of the vehicle’s VIN number on each window.

“With the VIN etching, it’s impossible to sell some of the parts, and that detracts thieves,” Smith said.