Vehicle thefts in Calgary leap 60% in past year

A more than 60 per cent increase in stolen cars is being tied to organized crime and the reorganization of Calgary police resources, according to the head of the economic crimes unit.

About 5,000 vehicles stolen this year, compared to 3,000 in 2014

Calgary police are dealing with a massive increase in stolen vehicles this year over last. (Calgary Police Service)

The head of the Calgary police economic crimes unit says organized crime and the reorganization of police resources are factors in a 60 per cent increase in car thefts this year.

The surge in stolen vehicles started in December 2014 and affects all four quadrants of the city, with about 5,000 vehicles reported stolen this year compared to about 3,000 in 2014.

Police say the increase can be blamed on several factors but are primarily tying it to other crime, including organized crime.

"Vehicle crime tends to facilitate other crimes," said Staff Sgt. Kristie Verheul with the economic crimes unit. "Overall we are seeing an increase in property crimes across the board."

That means once they're stolen, the vehicles are used for transportation — moving drugs, guns and stolen goods around — as well as committing further crimes like robberies.

Though the economic crimes unit primarily investigates fraud, it's now tasked with policing car thefts.

Car theft unit disbanded

Earlier this year, the Calgary Police Service disbanded its High Enforcement Auto Theft Team (HEATT) and re-allocated those resources to bolster its intelligence unit.

Verheul says that has likely affected the theft rate as a "small contributing factor." 

Police are also seeing an increase in the number of cars stolen with their keys, which they say means the car can be sold.

Around 80 per cent of cars and trucks are recovered, but it's the other 20 per cent that concern police.

The most targeted type of vehicles are Ford trucks and Honda Civics, and the Beltline was the most targeted neighbourhood, according to Verheul.

She recommends always keeping your car keys close by, never with your vehicle and parking in well-lit, heavy-traffic areas.

Police are looking into different strategies, including the return of the bait car program, to combat the increase.