Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating an increase of auto thefts during the past six weeks in a section of University City that’s dense with apartment complexes.
The areas targeted include streets within the perimeter of Interstate 85, W.T. Harris Boulevard, Old Concord Road and N.C. 49.
From Aug. 8 to Sept. 19, CMPD’s University City division has investigated 24 auto thefts in the region known as Response Area Two. Nine of them occurred within one week.
During the same six weeks last year, only five incidents of car thefts were reported in the area.
Most of the thefts have occurred in apartment complex parking lots. Four of the complexes – Mission at University Place, Hunt Club, Pavilion Crossing and Mission at Harris Pavilion – have had two thefts each.
Police believe the thefts are unrelated. To date, one arrest has been made, and an outstanding warrant has been issued on another suspect who police say attempted to steal a police bait car.
University City Police Lt. Dave Johnson said there is no emerging trend surrounding the thefts, other than that the spike corresponded with the dates students began returning to UNC Charlotte for the fall semester.
“There’s an influx of cars coming in. Nice cars,” said Johnson. “Hondas primarily, which are easy to steal.”
For the past four years, the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s “Hot Wheels” report has listed 1990s-era Honda Accords as the most stolen car in the United States. The Honda Civic ranks second.
Thieves target the older Hondas because their ignition systems are easier to override.
“Once they defeat that, they can drive it around,” said Johnson.
Most of the vehicles stolen have turned up in other areas of Charlotte within a week or two after they were taken.
“In our area, they either get stolen for transportation to some other part of town, or for their stereo,” said Johnson. “Most that we recover will be stripped of their stereo.”
The number of car thefts in Charlotte overall has risen slightly this year compared to 2011. January through September last year, 1,391 cars were reported stolen in Charlotte. So far this year, 1,402 have been reported stolen.
Other sections of the city have seen stolen cars completely stripped of their parts until nothing remains.
“In our area, we haven’t seen a lot of cars that just disappear and we never see them again,” said Johnson. “Those are the cars that go to chop shops.”
To combat the recent thefts in University City, police have planted six bait cars in apartment complexes throughout the area. The cars are equipped with cameras and engines that police can remotely shut off.
A specialized tag-reader car, equipped with multiple cameras, scans license plates, then runs them through a computer. It has also been circulating throughout University City.
Police recommend car owners remove valuables from their vehicles after parking.
“Auto thefts parallel with car break-ins,” said Johnson. “Anything that makes your car attractive to a thief makes you more susceptible to not only have that item stolen, but also your car stolen.”
Johnson also recommends that car owners use theft deterrents such as The Club steering lock system or a visible alarm system.
“It will make their car less attractive to a thief, and (the thief will) move on to the next one.”