Stolen autos contributing to rising crime in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- You love your wheels, but guess what? So do thieves.

It's why motor vehicle theft in Memphis is up 68 percent in the first four months of this year.

"It shocked me that my car was stolen. I just couldn't believe it," said one woman, who is one of the victims.

Her older model Honda was stolen while it was parked outside her Raleigh Apartment on May 3.

"I got up and looked out, my car was gone. I know where I parked it. When I looked out my car was gone," she said.

Her car was found the next day and brought to the Memphis Impound Lot, where there were thousands of other vehicles, many of which were stolen and wrecked.

Some times the driver makes it easy by leaving their car running.

"I know people who have had their car taken by leaving their car running while they run in the store. Usually it's someone who is familiar with the neighborhood so they feel like no one is gonna actually steal their car. But someone will jump in it and they will leave and you will never see your car again," said Jessica Foster of Frayser.

So why are vehicles so appealing?

Police said for the convenience and also for cash. But then sometimes, thieves want nothing more than to ride.

"If it's just a joyride, there is a good possibility we will find it parked on the streets somewhere or sometimes they get a little paranoid and they just set them on fire," said Colonel Marcus Worthy of the Memphis Police Department.

Joyriding may be why the percent of juveniles charged with motor vehicle theft in Memphis was up 81 percent the first part of this year compared to last.

"Right now compared to last year, I think it was 676 cars stolen last year. Now we have like 1,030," said Colonel Worthy.

There is also cash behind the crime.

"If you get a car door, maybe if you buy it legitimately you can get it for $150. But if it was a stolen car door it maybe $75. So all the guy did was steal a car, take the door off of it, he's got $75."

Police said they put a lot of effort in locating stolen cars, including putting out fliers and be on the look out alerts.

"Initially when the call comes out, two officers go to that call. Soon as they have enough information, they put out a broadcast to that station and then that dispatch broadcasts that information out to all the stations. So everybody is looking for it," said Worthy.

Police also put stolen vehicles into a national data base.

"When you run a tag, regardless of what state it is from, if it is stolen, it will show up in there. Usually they will have some details about the theft."

But one thing police wouldn't confirm is whether or not they have turned to a tactic used in other cities: bait cars.

Police position them in certain locations, equipped with video cameras and a cut-off switch on the engine.

When the thieves break in and make a get away it's all caught on camera.

Police track them the entire time and eventually hit the remote cut off switch, stalling the engine. The car stops and the thieves are caught.

Departments using the bait cars said they have led to an increase in arrests and a decrease in auto thefts.

That's what police are doing, but what can you do to keep your vehicle from being stolen in the first place?

The tips are ones we know, but often just don't do.

First don't leave your car running. Police said it's the easiest way you give criminals an opportunity.

"Opportunity targeting. You go up in a parking lot. Here is a car running at a gas station. Nobody is around. It is unlocked. They just jump in it and drive off or they will break the window and drive off," said Worthy.

Another opportunity arises when you leave your vehicle in an isolated place, giving thieves clearance to make their move and get away undetected.

Also, you may never think of the busy interstate as prime ground for car thieves, but owners who leave their vehicles on the side of the road after they break down often come back to find the car has been stripped.

"If a car is stolen for a parts order, whereas they need your fender, they need your hood all that stuff, it will be stripped and you will find a shell. If it's a full order, the car is gonna be put on a container and shipped to Mexico or somewhere else," said Worthy.

Their advice is to move your car as soon as possible to a secure place.

Also remember, while newer cars come with anti-theft devices, an owner's action is the best defense weapon in stopping car thieves in their tracks.