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New Multi-Agency Task Force to Target Vehicle Thefts in Santa Maria Valley

Santa Maria and Guadalupe police will join with the California Highway Patrol to implement a multi-agency task force to tackle the high number of stolen vehicles in the Santa Maria Valley.

The formation of the task force will be unveiled Wednesday afternoon during a press conference involving representatives of all three agencies.

The effort will aim at reducing the number of stolen vehicles within the Santa Maria Valley, police said.

Last summer, Chief Ralph Martin reported a dramatic spike in vehicle thefts for 2013, with the number topping 700, or an 83 percent increase. In 2012, the agency handled 399 vehicle thefts, he said.

The upward trend continued into 2014, including five reported thefts in one day last summer, the chief said.

Honda is the city's top targeted vehicle make, which also is popular among thieves in other communities, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The CHP has successfully formed similar task forces in other communities.

For instance, the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force (OCATT) — operating since July 1993 — works to reduce vehicle thefts and increase the number of arrests of professional auto thieves, according to CHP website. 

In 1995, OCATT arrested 66 supposed thieves, and recovered 251 vehicles worth approximately $3 million.

The Sonoma County Auto Theft Task Force has worked to fight vehicle thefts since 1998, with members from the CHP, the Santa Rosa Police Department and the Petaluma Police Department. 

In 2002, Sonoma County investigators recovered and/or assisted in the recovery of 184 vehicles valued at nearly $1.6 million and were involved 153 arrests, the CHP said.

The Taskforce for Regional Autotheft Prevention (TRAP) in Los Angeles County reportedly has been successful in battling vehicle theft and vehicle fraud by focusing on organized rings and illegal business operations. 

TRAP is dedicated to informing the public about common auto theft schemes and recent investigations, with the website giving examples of how thieves use classified ads, title washing and vehicle identification number switching to conduct their scams.

In addition to working with local law enforcement agencies, the efforts also involve district attorneys’ offices, the Department of Motor Vehicles, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Department of Justice

“Because of the high incidence of vehicle thefts in Southern California, the majority of task forces are formed there and focus on the professional thief and organized vehicle-theft rings,” according to the CHP website.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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