SUVs Are New Targets as Car Thefts Rise

New targets, along with new methods, have given Queens police precincts a challenge in apprehending would-be auto thieves.

City records show a 20 percent increase in car thefts in Richmond Hill and Maspeth this year than over the same period in 2010. The neighborhoods’ precincts, the 102nd and 104th respectively, have the two highest increases in car thefts from 2010 to 2011 out of all 16 borough precincts.

While car thefts have dramatically declined over the last two decades in Queens, it still has more cars stolen per year than any other borough. NYPD records showed the borough had nearly 3,300 car thefts last year—an increase of nearly 10 percent from 2009.

An NYPD report from November 2010 noted that car thieves favored Honda Civics and Accords, the top two cars stolen in the city.

According to Deputy Inspector Keith Green of the 104th Precinct, it seems Hondas are no longer the favored targets. Speaking at the Juniper Park Civic Association meeting on March 10, Green said the new targets for car thieves in Queens appear to be Toyota SUVs, particularly the Highlander, Tundra and Rav4 models. The challenge is that the thieves are using cloned transponder keys, which can mimic the electronic entry for a number of the SUVs targeted.

“It does pose a unique challenge to us because it’s not immediately clear that a car is being stolen,” Green said. “Since [the car thieves are] using keys that work on those cars, it makes it seem like the owner is driving off.”

In an attempt to address the new challenge head on, Green said the 104th Precinct has been attempting to notify the registered owners of Toyota SUVs in the district. According to Green, the precinct had made an auto-theft related arrest on March 9th, and the suspect was in possession of a transponder key.

Nevertheless, victims of car theft shouldn’t expect to get their car back. Of the 55 thefts this year in the 104th Precinct, three cars have been recovered. Green explained that often, stolen cars have their vehicle identification numbers changed and are sent to other states. “They’re not going on joyrides,” he said.

At the end of 2010, to combat the rising car thefts, the NYPD increased night patrols, and began stopping tow trucks to ensure they were on legitimate tow jobs. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown has made progress in the borough’s effort to curb the illegal scrapping of stolen cars. Five individuals—four tow-truck drivers and an accomplice—were charged on March 10 with selling 21 stolen vehicles for scrap metal.

“As the price of scrap metal increases, thieves are growing more aggressive and taking advantage of a quirk in the law in which they can dispose of vehicles eight years or older without proof of title,” Brown said. “They simply show their driver’s license at the scrap yard, fill out a DMV form stating that they are the delivery agent or the vehicle’s owner and leave with cash in their pocket—and their victims without a ride.”

The defendants in that case include Lawrence Bellino, of Howard Beach; Michael Olivio, of Richmond Hill; Jonathan Colon, of Flushing; Francisco Adames, of Long Island; and LePaul Gammons, of Catskills, New York.

According to the criminal charges, the defendants delivered 21 vehicles to A&J Scrap Metal Processing in Jamaica between May and October 2010. They presented a New York State Department of Motor Vehicles form used to transfer a vehicle at least eight years old and worth less then $1,250 to a vehicle dismantler when the owner does not have the title.

All 21 vehicles were crushed and reduced to scrap metal; the defendants were paid between $200 and $400 per vehicle.

Written by David Harvey

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