Mon | Oct 15, 2018

Getting tough on auto theft

Published:Wednesday | December 31, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Auto theft has been a major challenge for the Jamaican police over many years. Today the criminal enterprise that has grown out of this lucrative activity is estimated to be worth millions of dollars.

It is common knowledge that it's not just the thieves who steal the vehicles, but it is often a criminal ring, marked by an elaborate operation involving specialists, who work together to make auto theft a lucrative endeavour.

Countless newspaper headlines have announced the smashing of car-stealing rings in various parishes. Yet, the illegal activities continue and the police have not been able to put a significant dent in the trade. And there are indications that the criminals are broadening their reach, introducing an international link whereby vehicles are being stolen in North America and shipped to Jamaica.

police Raids

At one site raided by the police in St Catherine in October, 50 stolen vehicles were recovered. Some of the vehicles were scrapped for parts. There have been reports of similar raids in Clarendon, St Thomas and St James.

Now, it seems that the police are trying a new tactic by putting some heat on the purchasers of stolen vehicles. Flying Squad head, Senior Superintendent Cornwall 'Bigga' Ford, is urging potential buyers to use the Jamaica Constabulary Force forensic examination services to ensure that the vehicle they intend to purchase will pass muster.

We wonder whether Superintendent Ford's focus is the right one. Instead of getting tough on the purchasers, shouldn't there be a concerted effort to get the thieves, particularly the habitual ones as well as all the co-conspirators involved in this racket?

For example, how is the purchaser able to register and insure his stolen vehicle? Since every vehicle possesses a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), we must assume that a significant amount of forgery involving fraudulent documents must figure in the transaction to enable a stolen vehicle to be licensed for road use. The unwitting buyer could be fooled by documents that look real.

long chain of crime

So, as far as car stealing goes, the long chain of crime includes the thieves, the suppliers of VINs and titles, accomplices at the Customs Department and the wharves, the car dealers/brokers who sell the vehicle, and the purchaser who is motivated by his appetite for a bargain, which may not be readily satisfied in the legitimate auto industry.

It is all too convenient to target the purchasers; the police need to get equally tough on the other players in this lucrative stolen car business. There is no doubt that the police have a heavy workload trying to combat serious crimes such as murder, and auto theft may not have been given the focus it deserves. But urbanisation has fuelled the demand for motor vehicles, and new approaches are needed to deal with this old problem.

There has to be a way to disrupt and dismantle this seemingly intractable scourge and cut off the quick cash source for criminals. And we believe it must start with law enforcement combining resources and expertise with other relevant agencies as part of a multi-agency auto-theft task force, if you will.