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Be On the Lookout

In the fight against car thieves sometimes the most effective tools are the eyes of alert cops.

October 01, 2004  |  by Dan Pasquale - Also by this author

Numerous high-tech gadgets are now being deployed by law enforcement to catch or stop car thieves. Some agencies have set up special “sting” cars equipped with tracking systems and video surveillance gear. These have led to arrests of entire car theft rings and the seizure and shuttering of chop shops. As such they get a lot of press. But they can’t take the place of the best auto-theft recovery tool ever created, the well-educated patrol officer.


Patrol officers have always been the backbone of the police department, and they play a crucial role in the fight against auto theft. A well-trained, experienced officer can spot a stolen car driving down the highway or one “dumped” on the side of a county road. And some departments have cops who just seem to have a nose for finding stolen cars.


How do they do it? Simple; they learned easy techniques for spotting stolen cars early in their careers, and they apply them consistently in their daily duties. Any officer can learn these techniques, and any department can teach their officers these tips to increase their effectiveness in recovering stolen vehicles.


Here is a list of simple things to look for when searching for stolen vehicles:

• Look for broken car windows, especially wing windows. This is still the preferred way of vehicle entry for amateur car thieves. Breaking a small wing window and unlocking the door gets them into the car. Starting it is easy after that.

• Look for vehicles out of place. Vehicles that are parked in the middle of nowhere, between businesses, or in empty parking lots should send up a red flag to any passing officer. Thieves will normally “dump” stolen vehicles in crowded parking areas during peak hours. After the business is closed, the parking lot is cleared, except for the stolen car. Shopping malls are famous for this.

• Look for “stripped” vehicles. Many car thieves steal cars just for their parts. This is especially true in today’s “street racer” culture, where performance parts are worth a small fortune. Honda, Mitsubishi, and Acura are popular car makes for street racers, and that makes certain models of these cars popular for auto theft. These vehicles can frequently be found missing interior parts, such as seats and dashboards or engine parts.

CONTINUED: Be On the Lookout «   Page 1 of 2   »

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