AURORA, Colo. – As the nation sees its sharpest increase in car thefts in more than a decade, Denver7 Investigates has learned the Aurora Police Department is pulling its officers from the statewide multi-agency task force responsible for investigating major theft rings.
Colorado was the No. 1 state in the nation for car theft rate per 100,000 residents in 2020, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. But Aurora is citing staffing shortages as the reason it had to pull its officers back from the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force (CMATT).
CMATT is made up of several different law enforcement agencies, including Denver Police, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, Lakewood Police, Colorado State Patrol, Wheat Ridge Police, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
Some car theft victims tell Denver7 Investigates that they feel their cases are not a priority for the department.
“I feel helpless. I feel like I’ve been trying to solve my own case,” said Cara Shirley who had her car stolen in Denver. “And then when I got to Aurora, where my car was found, the police basically said we don’t really investigate these matters because the criminals are never found.”
The Aurora Police Department declined to comment on camera, but confirmed it had one sergeant, one agent and one officer assigned to the unit who are now being reassigned due to staffing issues.
“We continue to prioritize our personnel for patrol-related duties,” the department said in a statement. “Auto theft will still be investigated by APD officers and detectives and any high profile, organized crime, or frequent offender cases, even happening in Aurora will continue to be investigated by CMATT.”
In the past two years, data from CMATT shows car thefts are up 113 percent in Colorado. Mike Greenwell, a Lakewood commander who oversees CMATT, says auto thefts are the worst he’s seen in 40 years on the job.
“It is going to have an impact on the city of Aurora itself and an impact on the entire metro area,” Greenwell said. “Aurora, I estimate they were helping take care of about a third of our auto theft thieves. They were just an integral part.”
Statistics from the statewide auto theft task force show at the start of the year, the number of cars stolen are averaging 80 to 85 per day. In 2020, 55 to 58 cars were stolen per day.
Aurora says officer staffing shortage to blame
Aurora City Councilman Curtis Gardner called the move to remove Aurora’s officers from the statewide task force concerning, but necessary.
“We have seen a mass exodus of police officers,” Gardner said. “And because of the shortage of officers, we’ve had to make changes to several of our task forces.”
Aurora has been losing officers at a high rate since last year.
“We’ve seen an increase in crime. We have residents that are reaching out to us saying they don’t feel safe,” Gardner said.
Mayor Pro Tem Françoise Bergan says staffing patrol is the priority right now.
“When we are able to get to the right staffing levels, we’ll definitely be a part of that task force once again,” she said. “From a public safety perspective, the patrols are really important.”
Victims are trying to solve their own crimes online
As police are forced to put auto thefts on the back burner, victims are going online to post photos of their stolen cars in hopes of recovering them. A public group on Facebook called Colorado Stolen Cars has more than 25,000 members.
For victims like Shirley, they want to feel like their crime is a priority to police.
“People just don’t realize how financially devastating this is, how much post-traumatic stress disorder you have over it, and I really think that something has to change,” she said.
Aurora has made efforts to retain officers
In December, Aurora City Council approved $8,000 retention bonuses for officers in an effort to keep more law enforcement personnel from leaving the department.
Since last November, the Aurora Police Department says it had lost 114 members — 57 to resignations, 40 to retirements, seven to medical retirements, five to terminations, four to transfers and one death.
“Any of those types of incentives, I think, are going to help us reach our staffing levels,” Bergan said.