Police in Saskatoon have formed a task force to crack the sudden rise in auto thefts since the start of the year. (CBC)

A 28 per cent spike in auto thefts since the start of 2014 is spurring police in Saskatoon to action. A task force created a couple of weeks ago is trying to get to the root of what's happening.

"It's a property crime task force," explained Detective Staff Sergeant Keith Briant. "We've seen a spike in the last two or three months of both stolen autos and also in property crime, and we think that they're all linked."

The police call it "car shopping". Thieves initially look for things to steal out of vehicles, such as GPS devices, purses, or even loose change — anything that can provide quick cash.

"Once they're in the vehicle they search the whole vehicle and if they find a key, [they've] now stolen a car," he continued.

Following up on arrests, curfews

The task force meets twice a week to co-ordinate action. Police check to see that anyone on a court-ordered curfew is sticking to it, and every morning people who have been arrested for property crimes are interviewed.

The idea is for detectives to go over cases searching for new leads, follow up and lay more charges. "That way we can tighten up our procedures and get a handle on this as quickly as we can," Briant said.

His theory so far involves a combination of factors: warmer weather, the drug trade, fencing operations (sale of stolen property), gang activity, and joy-riding.

The recent bust of a couple of fencing operations in the city shows the approach is getting results, Briant said.

However police in Saskatoon have rejected the idea of using decoy cars to try to catch auto thieves, as has been done in Regina. Briant said it would require too many resources, only to net an attempted theft charge.

The task force could remain in place for three months or longer, he said.