Edmonton

Rough ride for Albertans as 'prolific car theft' continues

Every hour, nearly three Albertans discover their vehicles are not where they left them. Law enforcement and insurance experts are breaking down the numbers this week at the 2018 Central Canadian Auto-Theft Association Seminar.
Alberta accounts for nearly one-third of all auto thefts annually in Canada, according to the Central Canadian Auto Theft Association. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

Every hour, nearly three Albertans discover their trucks, cars or SUVs are not where they left them. 

Alberta accounts for almost one-third of all auto thefts in Canada, according to police-reported numbers gathered by Statistics Canada.

Roughly 62 vehicles are stolen in the province daily, three times the national average.

Law enforcement and insurance experts broke down the numbers at the 2018 Central Canadian Auto-Theft Association Seminar, being held June 6-7. The two-day seminar, hosted by the Edmonton Police Service, brings together more than 100 people every year to discuss auto-theft trends and solutions.

Guest speaker Dwayne Karpo, a detective with the Edmonton Police Service auto theft unit, said Alberta's citizens, police and insurance companies are hit especially hard by the problem.

Edmonton is the hotspot for the province.- Det. Dwayne Karpo, Edmonton Police Service auto theft unit

Alberta's transient population is coupled with a high concentration of sought-after trucks, which leaves vehicle-owners vulnerable to thieves, Karpo said.

Last year, eight of the 10 most stolen vehicles in Canada were Ford pickup trucks, according to insurance claim data collected by the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

The stolen trucks are shipped abroad in containers from port cities like Vancouver, and are keenly sought by buyers in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Karpo said. 

"The thefts aren't really based on what's easier to steal, the thefts are based on what's needed," Karpo said. "Alberta, we're truck country.

"Unfortunately Edmonton is the hotspot for the province ... we're the hub."

As many as 15 vehicles a day — more than 5,400 a year — are stolen in Edmonton, he said. Of those, about 1,500 are never recovered by police.

"Edmonton's seeing just a prolific car theft," Karpo said.

Drivers can protect their vehicles from opportunistic thieves by not leaving them running and unattended, said Det. Dwayne Karpo with the Edmonton Police Service auto theft unit. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

The majority of thefts are linked to organized crime, with thieves selling complete or disassembled cars, trucks and SUVs for profit. Stolen vehicles are also used to commit other crimes such as robberies, making it more difficult for police to trace the criminals.

"These vehicles are being stolen for a purpose," Karpo said. "It's a crime of opportunity and it's big money."

About a third of the thefts are for "joy rides" by people who then abandon the stolen vehicle, he added.

Drivers can protect themselves by taking simple steps, Karpo said, such as not leaving a running vehicle unattended, locking its doors and storing the key or key fob in a safe place.

About half the vehicles stolen in Alberta last year had keys left inside.

Lock it, make sure it's locked and take your keys with you.- Det . Dwayne Karpo , Edmonton Police Service auto theft unit

"If it's a crime of opportunity and if they can get away with it, it happens," he said. "Lock it, make sure it's locked and take your keys with you."

Educating the public is one of the most effective ways for police to prevent auto theft, Karpo said.

Officers also run targeted projects using bait cars to catch thieves, though the vehicles can only be used for a short time before thieves know to avoid them, Karpo said.

"Again, the biggest impact we can have ... is getting the awareness out there, the message of locking it and taking your keys with you," he said.

"Unfortunately with people, it's not until the vehicle does get stolen that it really sinks in."

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