Calgary's vehicle theft rate highest in country, police commission hears

Calgary has the highest vehicle theft rate in the country, according to a report presented to the Calgary Police Commission on Tuesday night.

111 cars and trucks stolen each week, on average, statistics show

Calgary Police Chief Roger Chaffin says fining victims of auto thefts if they left the vehicle running with the keys inside would not be the his first policy choice. (CBC)

Calgary has the highest vehicle theft rate in the country, according to a report presented to the Calgary Police Commission on Tuesday night.

On average, 111 cars and trucks are stolen each week in the city, Insp. Joe Brar told the commission.

Brar also said the rate spiked in 2015 and 2016, bucking a North American-wide downward trend for auto theft.

About 15 per cent of the vehicles stolen in Calgary had keys left inside. In the remaining 85 per cent of car thefts, keys were taken during residential break-ins or gym locker thefts, or the ignitions were tampered with, Brar said.

The rate could be cut significantly if more Calgarians got out of the habit of leaving their vehicles running unattended, Brar said.

Members of the Calgary Police Commission listen as Chief Roger Chaffin speaks at a meeting on Tuesday. Statistics were presented showing Calgary's auto theft rate is the highest in the nation. (CBC)

"I get the fact that people like to drive to work in a warm vehicle," he said. "There's probably better ways of doing that — remote car starters, or locking vehicles."

The Calgary Police Service formed an auto theft response team to deal with the problem in 2017.

But the head of the Calgary Police Association, Les Kaminski, told the commission he believes the situation would not be so dire if the force had not disbanded a similar unit in 2015.

"Right after that was disbanded, in 2015, auto thefts went up, like, 40 per cent. By 2017, they'd doubled."

Kaminski said he's hopeful the new unit can curb the problem but admitted he's frustrated the force didn't react sooner.

Chief Roger Chaffin says resources are allocated based on crime trends.

"You tend to move your resources at the time when it makes sense to move them and you watch trending and you have to adjust to that when it happens," he said.

"As we moved from a single team, for instance, that was dealing with auto thefts, we've created several teams around district operational teams that were meant to look at other things including auto thefts. But as things change you have to adapt."

The commission discussed the possibility of pushing for a new bylaw that would prohibit leaving cars running with the keys inside.

But Chaffin said he's not quite ready to advocate for that.

"I don't think I want to start first with punishing of the victims of stolen vehicles as your first recourse," he said.

"I think it's one of those things we have to look at. Are there opportunities there where we can … find more compliance from Calgarians without assigning fines to it, necessarily? I think that, actually, long term, will be the be-all, end-all."