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What are the chances of finding a stolen car?

Arizona Vehicle Theft Task Force (AVTTF)

The Vehicle Theft Task Force or “RATTLER” (Regional Auto Theft Team Law Enforcement Response) is administered and led by the AZDPS and organized under the Border Strike Force. As a part of the Border Strike Force, the Vehicle Theft Task Force also works to combat border crimes and thwart transnational criminal organizations. Vehicle Theft Task Force personnel are highly motivated and focused on the apprehension of criminal offenders and traffickers involved in stolen vehicles and related crimes.

From the mid-1980s, auto theft rates started to rise, creating a concern from Arizona residents. An analysis of vehicle theft statistics from 1990 to 1995 revealed a dramatic increase in Arizona’s vehicle thefts. The auto theft numbers increased more than 50 percent from 31,648 stolen vehicles in 1990 to 48,830 stolen vehicles in 1995, making Arizona the highest-ranking state in the nation for auto theft (number of thefts per 100,000 residents). Unfortunately, vehicle theft was only getting worse in Arizona. The low point was reached in 2002, when Arizona reported its highest total number of thefts, 56,876, and a theft rate that was once again the highest in the nation (National Crime Insurance Bureau and FBI UCR Data). The data indicated that vehicle theft was impacting the residents of Arizona and visitors.

To reduce auto theft, the Arizona Legislature in 1992 established the Automobile Theft Prevention Authority to assist law enforcement entities in reducing auto theft. In 1996 the Arizona Legislature passed House Bill 2178, which changed the Automobile Theft Prevention Authority’s name to the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority. House Bill 2178 outlined the Automobile Theft Authority’s responsibilities and created the Automobile Theft Authority Fund “to provide assistance to law enforcement with funding and programs to reduce the incidence of automobile theft” (Sec. 15). In November 1996, the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority provided a grant to the Arizona Department of Public Safety to create the statewide multi-agency Vehicle Theft Task Force.

In March 1997, the Vehicle Theft Task Force was fully operational with one Lieutenant, a secretary, and two operational squads. By 2004, the Vehicle Theft Task Force increased to six squads with a staff of 43 personnel from 15 different agencies stationed in Maricopa, Pinal, Pima, Santa Cruz, Yuma, Cochise, Mohave, and Yavapai counties.

Currently, the Vehicle Theft Task Force is organized into four operational squads, consisting of 19 detectives from 11 different agencies, located in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas, Yuma and Nogales. While the task force has seen a reduction of personnel, it has become more efficient in recovering stolen vehicles and apprehending suspects responsible for vehicle theft.

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Since the inception of the Vehicle Theft Task Force in 1997, Arizona’s auto theft rate has decreased more than 56% from 44,201 in 1997 to 19,139 in 2018 (FBI UCR — Crime in the United States 1997-1998). From 2000 through 2007, the total number of auto thefts eclipsed the 1997 number but has since fallen consistently to today’s lower number (FBI UCR). For 2017 and 2018, Arizona is no longer listed in the nation’s top ten for vehicle theft.

The Vehicle Theft Task Force has influenced vehicle theft rates and is regarded as subject matter experts in the field of auto theft, especially as it relates to fraud and organized crime. In 2019, the Vehicle Theft Task Force recovered 1,635 stolen vehicles (136 were repatriated stolen vehicles from Mexico) with an estimated value of more than $23.7 million. Focused on apprehending prolific offenders rather than just recovering the stolen vehicle, the Vehicle Theft Task Force apprehended 306 suspects for vehicle theft-related crimes, shut down 15 chop shops, and served 45 search warrants. Recognized as subject matter experts in the field of auto theft, detectives provided more than 550 training hours in auto theft investigations and vehicle identification techniques to law enforcement personnel, county attorneys and to Mexican law enforcement personnel. The Vehicle Theft Task Force also devoted more than 3250 hours on border relations, border investigations, and transnational crime investigations.

Once the nation’s highest state for auto theft rates, Arizona, now enjoys placement outside the top ten. While we are encouraged by the progress achieved, there is still more work to be done because vehicle theft continues to be a challenge for Arizona.

The public can contact the Vehicle Theft Task Force at:

Call: 602-223-2364

The public is encouraged to leave anonymous information on stolen vehicles, chop shops, and the trafficking of stolen vehicles. The Vehicle Theft Task Force also conducts courtesy stolen vehicle reports for vehicles stolen in Mexico.

Vehicle theft is often a crime of opportunity that can be reduced through awareness and prevention. The quicker a car thief can steal your vehicle, the more attractive it is. However, you can discourage would-be thieves by making theft more difficult. Anything you can do to slow down car thieves will make your vehicle a less appealing target.

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According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), in 2019, there were 794,019 auto thefts in the United States. This was down from 819,988 in 2018 and 833,740 in 2017 (NICB 2019 Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report). With more than 2,175 vehicles stolen each day, auto theft is preventable.

Auto theft-related crimes impact the community. While vehicle theft is classified as a property crime, according to the Arizona Auto Theft Authority, it is often linked to other more serious crimes with serious consequences that reach far beyond that of just a stolen vehicle. The Colorado Automobile Theft Prevention Authority reports that 74% of car thieves are charged with additional offenses such as drug crimes, armed robbery, home invasion, and identity theft (

The automobile industry is continuously evolving its theft prevention technology to stay a step ahead of the thieves. Despite the reduction in vehicle thefts over the past several years, industry observers caution that thieves are also continually evolving sophisticated means to defeat these new security devices.

With that said, it is essential to know some key elements of theft prevention. Locking your car doors is one of the most effective barriers to auto theft, however, it is only the start. You can make it more difficult to steal your vehicle by incorporating these four steps:

1. Use Common Sense — #ParkSmartAZ

— Be aware of your surroundings.

— Lock your doors, even when you are driving, and roll up your windows.

— Take your keys out of the car.

— Never leave your vehicle running unattended, not even for a minute, even when it is locked. Even if your key fob is with you, it does not take much to break a window and drive off with your car.

— Do not leave your children or pets unattended in your car.

— Always park in well-lit areas.

— Do not keep a spare set of keys in the car. This can allow thieves to access your home and more of your property. All a thief needs are your spare house key, or a key fob left in your car to have unlimited access to your possessions.

— Remove your valuables from your car or hide them in the trunk or out of view.

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— Report anything suspicious and avoid suspicious-looking people.

— Review your insurance policy annually to ensure you have the coverage you expect. Do not wait until after your car is stolen to find out you don’t have the coverage you think you have.

2. Invest in an Anti-Theft Device / Warning Device

— Audible alarm system

— Steering wheel locks

— Steering column collars

— Enroll in the “Watch Your Car” program

3. Vehicle Immobilizer — This is a device that prevents thieves from hot-wiring your vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the power or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated.

— Smart keys have computer chips that must be present to start the car

— Ignition cut-off system

— Starter, ignition, and fuel disablers

4. Tracking System — Install a tracking device that alerts police or a monitoring service when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very useful in helping law enforcement authorities recover stolen vehicles.

— Drive with windows rolled up and doors locked.

— Be aware of your surroundings.

— Do not enter your vehicle if someone is loitering in the area. Seek help.

— When stopped at a signal, leave enough space between you and the next car to be able to drive away if approached.

— Be alert at drive-up ATMs.

— If all else fails, do not resist.

Your life is more important. Trust your Instincts — If you see suspicious activity, trust your instincts, and never confront anyone yourself. Reporting suspicious persons and behaviors is an important step you can take to help keep you and your community safe. If you hear or see something suspicious, call the police immediately.

There is no wrong answer to theft prevention if it works. But most importantly, it must be utilized.

Being prepared in advance may ultimately help law enforcement recover your vehicle more quickly and reduce your expenses. Take pictures of your vehicle, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance and keep them on your phone. If you can, make photocopies and keep a set in your wallet/purse or at home. This will enable you to provide information quickly to law enforcement and your insurance claims agent. If your car is stolen, please take the following steps:

1. Contact local law enforcement immediately or call 911. Speed is essential in recovering a stolen vehicle; any delay in reporting will only help the thieves. Be prepared to provide your vehicle’s make, model, color, license plate number, and VIN (Vehicle Identification Number). Provide law enforcement any distinct features of your vehicle that can help quickly identify your vehicle. This can include distinguishing marks like decals, pinstriping, or unrepaired body damage in a specific place. Advise law enforcement if you have a GPS or tracking system installed on your vehicle.

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2. If you see someone stealing or tampering with your car, use extreme caution, and do not approach the suspect. Call 911 as quickly as possible.

3. Make a list of personal property that was in your car.

4. Call your insurance company.

5. Contact your lienholder or leasing company.

6. Be alert to Id theft. You may have had items in your vehicle that included your address or personal information.

7. Be alert to home burglary — Did you leave your spare set of keys in your car? If a thief found these, a thief can use your car registration or your insurance information to find your address and a way into your home.

There’s a 1 in 5 Chance You’ll Get Your Car Back if it’s Stolen

Have you ever had your car stolen? If you have, were you able to locate and recover it? Some studies are coming out now offering new insights into the unfortunate situations regarding stolen cars and recovery. It seems vehicle theft continues to be a problem. And current analytics suggest there’s a one in five chance you’ll recover your car after it’s been taken.

Some of the data regarding stolen cars and stolen car recovery

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is offering reports already indicating car thefts are up in 2021, reversing a two-year decline. In actual numbers, that’s roughly 73,000 more stolen cars. In Washington D.C. alone, roughly 50 cars are reported stolen every day. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), around $6.4 billion was lost entirely to motor vehicle theft in 2019 overall. Getting the car back after it’s been taken is an entirely different set of dynamics that you might find startling.

Since it’s hard to predict how a thief might think, it’s hard to say if they plan to keep your stolen car. Based on other stats provided by the Recovery Network, the most important factor that leads to recovery is where the vehicle is found.

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There’s a 20% chance your vehicle was stolen only for a joyride, offering a 12% chance your car comes back unharmed. Data suggests 30% of stolen cars end up being used in other crimes, including parted out for cash at area chop shops.

The stolen car in question is 50% likely to end up on the black market in rare, classic, or exotic car scenarios. Statista reported that for 2019, the recovery rate was roughly 56.1%. However, overall, there is a one in five likelihood that you’ll get your car back, which seems pretty low.

Why do the stolen car recovery rates seem so low?

About 1/3 of stolen vehicles ever recovered come back to their owners with $1,000 worth of damage. One in three is estimated to come back beyond repair altogether. So, why do these recovery rates seem so low? Is it possible vehicle owners are quick to process insurance claims and move on without pursuing recovery beyond a certain time? Are there bad-apple car owners out there making a profit on their insurance claims? It’s hard to say.

There are reasons to support higher rates of vehicle returns, including the existence of state and national databases law enforcement use, making it harder to “hide” or sell a vehicle that has been stolen. And there are incredible tales of stolen cars finding their ways back to their original owners, sometimes decades later.

How long before it is actually found and returned?


On average, law enforcement can typically find a stolen car with 48 hours of reporting it stolen. But some cars take much, much longer to make their way back to their owners’ garages. One such story featured a stolen Ferrari 308 GTS supercar that, in a crazy turn of events, ended up on consignment after a trip to Poland and returning to its owner some 30 years later. It’s a stolen car recovery tale that doesn’t represent the norm, but it certainly offers some hope to those still missing their beloved cars.

Your first line of defense to recovering your stolen car is to try and avoid theft in the first place. There are great anti-theft devices on today’s vehicles that might help, but basic steps like closing the garage door at night, keeping your vehicle doors locked at all times, and parking in secure areas whenever possible will help reduce the risks.

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