Career Criminals Often Start With Auto Theft

  • April 3, 2018
  • Will Modelevsky

According to Forensic Investigation of Stolen-Recovered and Other Crime-Related Vehicles, a widely recognized guide to auto theft forensics, auto theft is often the first crime engaged in by juvenile offenders who go on to a career of committing other crimes. Stolen vehicles are often used in burglaries, armed robberies and other crimes. Criminals have even reinforced a stolen vehicle so it can be used to smash through a wall to gain access to a building such as a jewelry store. A few factors lead to the popularity of vehicle theft ranging from state regulations to drivers presenting “a crime of opportunity.” Stricter laws, more funding for auto theft prevention agencies, and rehabilitation, paired with technology can reduce the risk of theft and escalated criminal activity.

Auto Theft’s Connection with Other Crimes

Although there is limited statistical data connecting auto theft to further crimes, some law enforcement leaders are beginning to collect evidence that legitimizes what officers can already surmise from anecdotes. According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) a stolen car is often only the beginning of a succession of further related crimes. 97% of car thieves are also charged with other crimes, such as arson, drug trafficking, kidnapping, burglary, and fraud1. Considered from a different point of view, this correlation might operate both ways. What we mean is that auto theft is a first step down a criminal path, while cars stolen by experienced criminals are used in other serious crimes.

This tendency towards auto theft leads to further crimes provides an all-too-easy vector of opportunity when people make their cars easy to steal. According to the Grand Junction, Colorado Police Department, people need to be more aware of the ripple effect of car theft. People who start or leave their cars running in cold weather to warm them up are providing many opportunities for thieves. With these easily accessed resources, criminals’ serious crimes increase the overall danger to the public. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, up to 50% of stolen cars are left running or with the keys inside. Citizens can actually help reduce these aggregated crimes overall when they use common sense and take measures to protect their own vehicles against theft.

Task Forces and the Power of Tracking Technology

During the 1990s, as carjacking and other types of auto theft became a focus of law enforcement efforts, task forces were formed in several areas of the country to combat the problem and were significantly effective in reducing crime. Despite their success, task forces have been hampered by budget cuts over the last several years. Unfreezing budgets and restoring funding to these vital agencies is critical to regaining their impact on auto theft prevention.

Finally, in some states, it is difficult to prosecute or even detain car thieves.  This often well-known fact makes stealing vehicles a tempting and ideal crime for young thrill-seeking offenders. An organized criminal enterprise can send out juveniles to steal cars; if they’re caught, they can be back on the street stealing again the very next day. As a result, some police departments turned to tracking technology to assist them. The installed devices paired with a communications alert network turns a stolen car into a homing beacon leading officers to the stolen vehicle. Recoveries may lead to larger crimes such as chop shops or drug trafficking that provides communities with better peace of mind when these criminal networks are dismantled.

For more information about how LoJack® technology goes beyond stolen vehicle recovery, check out our website.


[1] Casey, Scott.  Auto Theft and Its Connection and Role in the Furtherance in Other Crimes – Colorado Case Studies 2013–2015, (Colorado Auto Theft Intelligence Coordination Center, 2015).