Vancouver police tout decade-long decline in car thefts

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew

Auto thefts edged up slightly in Vancouver last year but not enough for police to detect a change in the trend that's seen them decline by almost two thirds in the last decade.

Thieves boosted 1,202 cars in the Terminal City in 2012, compared with 1,146 the previous year, according to Vancouver Police Department data. But 2003 saw 6,455 vehicles stolen, with the numbers declining every year except for last year, which hopefully is just a hiccup.

"We average about three stolen cars reported in Vancouver every day," said Const. Brian Montague, according to CBC News. "That's down from 10 years ago, where we used to have almost 18 cars reported stolen each and every day."

The stats were trotted out as police announced the arrest of three car thieves over a 24-hour period on the weekend.

The numbers cover only Vancouver proper, not the metropolitan area, but the fact is car thefts have been declining steadily almost everywhere across the Lower Mainland.

[ Related: Top 11 holidays for vehicle theft ]

Suburban Surrey, which in 2002 held the dubious honour of being North America's car-theft capital, has also seen dramatic declines.

Metro Vancouver police forces, who've jointly pushed hard on vehicle theft, credit their Bait Car program with helping take the most prolific car thieves out of circulation.

But they say the decline in car thefts, a national trend, is also attributable to the the presence of high-tech anti-theft devices on newer-model vehicles. The movie cliche of someone yanking a couple of wires from under the dashboard and twisting them together to fire up the car is simply outdated.

Federal law since 2007 has required car makers to fit new models with immobilizers that make it nearly impossible to start a car without the key, according to an article posted on last December. Some cars require a key with a encoded chip that works only on a specific car.

That doesn't mean a new vehicle is invulnerable to theft. Professional car thieves looking for desirable models to export to foreign countries might find work-arounds to anti-theft systems or simply roll them onto flatbed trucks and deal with the safeguards later.

But the vast majority of vehicles are targets of opportunity for petty crooks who use them to commit other crimes, such as break-ins.

"They're being used as a means [by] the criminal to get from A to B to get away from their crime," Montague said.

[ Related: Top 10 most stolen vehicles filled with foreign sedans, American pickups ]

If you look at the list of the top-1o most stolen cars in British Columbia last year, posted by GlobalBC News, none is newer than 2006 and most date from the 1990s.

It's largely the same with the Canadian top 10 compiled by the Insurance Bureau of Canada. Honda Civic models lead both lists, with various domestic pickup trucks, SUVs and minivans also popular, perhaps because they can hold a lot of stolen property.

According to Statistics Canada figures, only a handful of Canadian cities saw increases in car-theft rates in 2011 (last year's national stats won't be out until this summer). Saskatoon and Guelph, Ont., experienced a 23 per cent rise, with smaller increases in Brantford and Barrie, Ont., and Halifax.

Every other metropolitan area saw declines. Vancouver was down 21 per cent, Victoria 38 per cent, St. John, N.B., 28 per cent, Kingston., Ont. 25 per cent and Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, 29 per cent. Nationally, the auto theft rate dropped by 12 per cent.