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Denver PD announces car tracking program to curb auto thefts, quickly find stolen cars

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Posted at 7:53 PM, Mar 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-04 14:46:47-05

DENVER — Preauthorize the Denver Police Department to track your vehicle in case it's ever stolen: That is the gist of the department's new "DenverTrack" program, as Colorado leads the entire nation for car thefts per capita.

During the program's reveal Friday, Lieuetant Ryan Harris addressed the first question that probably popped into everyone's mind.

"No. If your car is not reported stolen, we will not, we cannot track you," he said.

Anyone who lives in Denver and has a tracking device in their vehicle — like OnStar, Bluelink, an Apple AirTag, etc., — can participate in the program by registering on Denver PD's website. There, you will be asked to provide your vehicle information, proof that you are the registered owner, and preauthorize the department to access the device.

According to Harris, despite preauthorization, officers will ask for final consent from the registered owner after the car is reported stolen.

"We obtain a consent at that time, and then we would work with a third-party to gain location information. Most of the time, that's going to be the community member," Harris said.

Those who register for the program will also be given stickers to post on their window that reads, "This vehicle is protected. Tracked by the Denver Police Department," in an attempt to deter thieves from targeting the vehicle.

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According to very preliminary data Denver PD received from law enforcement in Cook County, Illinois, that use a similar program, the sticker reduced the "desire to steal a car" by up to 50%.

Dispersing those stickers to the general public who do not want to register for the program may be an option down the line.

"So that's something we're looking at in the future. But currently, with us adopting data driven approaches to crime prevention and evidence-based, we need to prove some effectiveness of this program," Harris said.

More than just tracking

This program aims to go beyond auto theft.

In 2022, Denver police arrested 1,484 suspects, or 9%, of the 14,900 reported stolen vehicles. About 70 percent of those suspects were arrested for a secondary crime committed after stealing the vehicle.

"A lot of our burglaries or other property crimes and violent crime starts with the use of a stolen vehicle," Harris said.

Push for harsher penalties

The Colorado Metropolitan Auto Task Force estimates more than 40,000 cars were stolen statewide in 2022, a 12% jump from the previous year.

Colorado currently leads the nation in auto thefts with an 86% increase from 2019 to 2021, according to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. Cities like Broomfield experienced a 170% increase in thefts, while Grand County reported a 250% increase and Boulder County experienced a 60% increase.

This is why Gov. Jared Polis pushed for harsher penalties associated with car thefts at the tail end of 2022.

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of lawmakers unveiled a bill to crack down on car thefts in the state. Senate Bill 23-097 would make virtually all car thefts in Colorado a felony, regardless of the vehicle’s value.

The bill faced its first committee hearing last week in the Colorado Senate with support from mayors from across the state as well as law enforcement.

"We're going to make arrests on a more frequent basis," Harris said.

However, the bill does have one important carveout. It creates a new misdemeanor offense for those who take a car without the owner’s permission but return it within 24 hours, don’t cause any damage and don’t use it to commit another crime.

“This is like when a teenager goes joy riding in grandma's car,” said Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, during a press conference in January.

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