Grand Theft Auto
How come Maui's so popular with car thieves?
May 17, 2007
Better lock your Mustang's doors. Just when Maui's been unceremoniously bumped from Conde Nast's "Best Island" podium, a new distinction has been bestowed upon our home. New state crime statistics show we're living on the island where you're most likely to get your car stolen.
Maui's auto theft rate is four times higher than that on Kauai. In fact, it's two and a half times greater than Los Angeles.
The State Attorney General's office just released the state crime data for 2005. I know it's 2007, but the AG's office says computer system changes in the counties put them behind schedule (until very recently, Kauai was still using a paper and pencil record system).
Anyway, while the raw numbers of stolen cars in Honolulu and in Los Angeles easily trumped Maui, the actual rate of theft was considerably higher here. Maui's rate is 833 per 100,000 residents. The Big Island runs at about half that. Badass LA is a mere 331 per 100,000 residents.
By contrast, Maui's violent crime rate is low. Even most property crimes are either down or hovering. But the rate of motor vehicle theft—"Unauthorized Control of a Propelled Vehicle" (UCPV), to use the AG's lingo—is rising fast.
The Hawai`i Attorney General's Uniform Crime Report (UCR) shows that Maui's motor vehicle theft rate took a 57 percent leap in the last record year while the state rate went down eight percent at the same time.
There's more than one theory explaining why UCPV is suddenly through the roof on Maui.
A conviction for a UCPV—a Class C felony—will bring five years in prison and $5,000 fine. If you're a first time offender you're looking at probation. Repeat offenders get into some mandatory prison time. And there isn't any push for stricter penalties at the moment, according to Maui County Prosecuting Attorney Benjamin Acob.
"In Maui there're a lot of cars to steal," Acob said. "From the pieces that we've seen, a lot of these cases are associated with drug users. If they sell [the car], it would be one way to support their habit. This is a crime of opportunity. The cars are easy to steal. For example, a lot of them are stolen from rental car lots. They know people from the inside. In the past, they could go into a lot, find the keys inside the car, and they'd just drive off."
Wendy Hudson, Deputy Public Defender with the State, noticed this trend a year ago. She also points the finger at drug users and says that dealers are telling users that they'll get them their next fix for, say, a silver BMW M4. Then, the tweaker hunt is on Too Fast, Too Furious-style until the dealer gets his ride.
Don Simpson, Lieutenant with the Criminal Investigations Department of Maui Police, said police know UCPV's are way up. He also confirmed that MPD is implementing programs to deal with the rash of thefts. He declined to elaborate.
But Simpson did say that it was the department's view that most UCPV's are people who are joyriding and then crashing or dumping the cars—not necessarily drug related. Theft of the contents of a vehicle—Unauthorized Entry in to a Motor Vehicle (UEMV)—is more the domain of the drug fiends.
Other communities are trying creative solutions to their auto theft problems. For instance, police in Arlington, Virginia are placing "bait cars" out on the streets. When someone breaks in, a hidden internal camera begins recording while a GPS transponder in the car alerts police.
Dispatch then routes the closest patrol cars to the scene and can even remotely shut down the car's motor and lock the doors. Conviction rates for stolen "bait cars" run at 100 percent.
Lt. Simpson was familiar with these programs but asserted that these types of programs would be very short-lived on an island as small as Maui. Here, word would travel so fast that the "bait" would be useless after only a few catches.
A separate source inside MPD has a different take. When asked if dealers are "ordering" up cars, he said,
"The drug dealers—we know where they live," the police official said. "They make a lot of money. They don't have to steal them. They just buy them. We have impounded cars with 20K worth of extras on them."
According to the official, "people not targeting houses now" because "vehicles are easier." As far as what Maui should do, the police official said their response comes down to staffing—and what actions the rest of us take.
"There's a lot of people out there with answers and solutions," the official said. "We're short-handed by 67 people. Does it make sense? We ask for more personnel. People say they can't afford. They say, 'I pay my taxes.' Well, I pay my taxes, too. This problem is the whole community's problem. The whole thing is a community problem. If there's something happening, give us a call. The public has to make a call. If someone's the type of person who's quiet about this, they're part of the problem." MTW
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