Crime

Metro Denver Car Thefts Surge During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you own a 2006 Ford F-150 like this one, keep a close eye on it.
If you own a 2006 Ford F-150 like this one, keep a close eye on it. YouTube
At this point, there's hardly any social ill that the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't made worse — but some of the negative effects are more surprising than others.

For example, since the rise of the novel coronavirus, motor vehicle theft in the Denver metro area has spiked, too. In a serious way.

That's the conclusion of Colorado's Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (C-MATT), a police agency coalition based in Jefferson County that's primarily funded by the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority through automobile insurance fees. The organization's statistics reveal that the number of automobiles taken for illicit rides has more than doubled since the month before COVID-19 became a household term in Colorado.

Between December 29, 2019, and March 15, 2020, just before Colorado Governor Jared Polis issued his stay-at-home order for residents, auto thefts in the metro area averaged 233 per week. The week afterward, car thefts rose by 20 percent, to 280, and between March 22 and June 20, that average number jumped to 339 weekly. During the subsequent three-month period, from June 21 to September 20, the total hit an average of 453 per week, up 125 percent since early February.


C-MATT doesn't speculate on why Denver area car thefts have climbed so precipitously over the previous six months-plus. So at this point, there's no telling if they were spurred by the economic downturn related to COVID-19, the number of vehicles left near homes rather than being driven to places of employment, or the simple fact that everyone suddenly found themselves with more time at their disposal, including criminals bent on proving that truism about idle hands being the devil's workshop.

Here's a C-MATT graphic showing the theft increase. Note that the agency has included in its timeline the start and end dates for major protests in downtown Denver — markers whose inclusion is more than a bit puzzling, since they don't seem to have had any effect on the number of car thefts.

More telling are auto-theft statistical breakdowns for each of the past four years, which show how lousy 2020 has been for car owners:
Weekly averages for Denver Metro Area motor vehicle thefts:

• 2020 — 339
• 2019 — 247
• 2018 — 267
• 2017 — 249

Lowest/highest weekly average in Denver Metro area:

2020:
• 2-9-20 to 2-15-20 — 198
• 9-13-20 to 9-19-20 — 499

2019:
• 1-20-19 to 1-26-19 — 201
• 6-30-19 to 7-6-19 — 300

2018:
• 6-3-18 to 6-9-18 — 227
• 1-7-18 to 1-13-18 — 310
• 2-4-18 to 2-10-18 — 310

2017:
• 7-16-17 to 7-22-17 — 182
• 8-27-17 to 9-2-17 — 339
• 9-3-17 to 9-9-17 — 339
As for the kinds of vehicles most frequently stolen, C-MATT singles out "full-size trucks, specifically the 1999-2006 Ford F150, F250, F350 trucks and the 1999-2006 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500, 2500, 3500 trucks. Thieves generally steal trucks for the valuable tools and equipment stored in these trucks. In almost all cases, when a stolen vehicle is recovered, very few of the tools or other personal items are ever recovered. However, metro area law enforcement does recover about 85 percent of the stolen vehicles and most are within thirty days."

To prevent yourself from going down this particular road, C-MATT offers the following tips:
• Never leave keys/key fobs to any vehicle in your car
• Never leave your car running and unattended
• Always lock your doors and roll up your windows
• Always remove, or at least conceal, anything of value
• Use a steering wheel locking device as a deterrent
• Use an audible alarm or other disabling device, especially if you leave tools or other valuables inside your vehicle every day
• Park in a well-lit area where your vehicle can be seen
• Avoid parking in isolated areas
• If you have a garage or other secure area to park your vehicle – use it!
• Lock the door between your garage and the interior of your home
• If you see anything or anyone suspicious or looking into or around vehicles, call 911
• Ensure you have the license plate and VIN number, the serial number for valuable items such as tools and electronics documented with proof of ownership
• And use a permanent method for easy identification, such as engraving your name, on the tools to assist law enforcement in returning your valuables to you
Just a few more reasons 2020 sucks.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts