Car Thefts Accelerating in County, Survey Shows

Times Staff Writer

Car thefts increased dramatically in the first six months of 1988 in several Orange County areas surveyed by the state attorney general’s office.

Violent crime also increased in four of the seven areas compared to the same period in 1987.

The police departments of Anaheim, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Orange and Santa Ana were included in the biannual survey, as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which serves Mission Viejo, San Juan Capistrano, Stanton, Villa Park and unincorporated areas.

The city of Orange had the largest increase in auto thefts, from 326 to 467, or 43.3%.


“That doesn’t surprise me,” Orange Police Sgt. Timm Browne said. “We have noticed an increase not only in auto thefts, but in our officers recovering stolen vehicles, either occupied vehicles or picking them up (abandoned) off the street.”

Also showing large increases in auto thefts were Garden Grove with 35.6%; Santa Ana, 33%; Fullerton, 20%, and Huntington Beach, 17%.

Santa Ana Police Lt. Robert Chavez said the department recently began measures to reduce the number of car thefts, including setting up a hot line in English and Spanish for tips about auto thieves.

“The department has been conscious of the rise of auto thefts, particularly of Japanese-made cars,” Chavez said.


For some gangs in the city, Chavez said, stealing cars is their main activity.

“There is one gang we call the GTA boys, that is, grand theft auto. Some of these groups have found that auto theft is more lucrative (than burglary). We’re trying to target these people.”

In fact, while auto thefts increased in all cities surveyed, burglaries decreased. An exception was Huntington Beach, where burglaries increased by 9.5%.

For Fullerton, a major increase occurred in the number of violent crimes, up 34.4%. The violent crime category includes murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Fullerton Police Sgt. Jeff Roop attributed most of the rise to the 59.4% increase in robberies, which went from 64 in the first six months of 1987 to 102 in the first half of 1988. He also said the number of robbers hasn’t increased, but the number of their crimes has.

“We have had a couple of fellows hit us three or four weekends in a row, and then their luck ran out and they got caught. . . . Generally, those increases occur when you have an armed robbery-type person who is active for two weeks a month for two months, or they hit almost every day and then get caught. Then the crime rate goes right back down after that.”

Roop also said the violent crime rate increased because incidents of domestic violence must now be reported in the aggravated assault category.

“In the past, if it was a spousal situation, if a spouse suffered a minor injury--a bloody nose or bruise--it would be classified as a simple assault. But now, even minor injuries are considered felony (aggravated assaults) with the new spousal assault law.”


According to a report released with the survey, the number of aggravated assaults has increased statewide since 1986, when police departments were first required to include domestic violence reports under that category.

Other cities reporting an increase in violent crime were Santa Ana, 16.9%; Anaheim, 8.6%, and Orange, 6.3%.

The Sheriff’s Department was one of three Orange County jurisdictions to report a decrease in violent crime, down 11.1% from 1987.

“I would like to think (that) the reduction in crimes may be because we’re making some progress in taking the crooks off the streets who have been committing and getting away with (crimes) before some of the new crime-fighting equipment came along, such as the Cal-ID fingerprinting system,” departmental spokesman Lt. Richard J. Olson said. “Today, in a matter of a few minutes, we can identify a person as a suspect, whereas in the past if you had a fingerprint you had to have a name or something else to go with it.”

Cal-ID is the state’s computerized fingerprint identification system in which thousands of fingerprints are stored for comparison with those found at crime scenes.

The Sheriff’s Department also reported a 12.3% reduction in burglaries.

“I could say the people are being more sensitive to security of their homes by installing alarm systems and maintaining them properly,” Olson said, “but we have nothing to prove that that’s the cause.”

The survey included 50 law enforcement departments serving areas of 100,000 or more population.



Jan.-June Jan.-June 1987 1988 % Change Anaheim Police Dept. Violent Crimes 619 672 +8.6 Burglary 2,771 2,411 -13.0 Motor Vehicle Theft 1,253 1,262 +0.1 Fullerton Police Dept. Violent Crimes 212 285 +34.4 Burglary 827 760 -8.1 Motor Vehicle Theft 424 509 +20.0 Garden Grove Police Dept. Violent Crimes 518 458 -11.6 Burglary 1,364 1,107 -18.8 Motor Vehicle Theft 653 899 +35.6 Huntington Beach Police Dept. Violent Crimes 266 261 -1.9 Burglary 1,122 1,229 +9.5 Motor Vehicle Theft 383 448 +17.0 Orange Police Dept. Violent Crimes 221 235 +6.3 Burglary 905 738 -18.5 Motor Vehicle Theft 326 467 +43.3 Santa Ana Police Dept. Violent Crimes 774 905 +16.9 Burglary 2,216 1,828 -17.5 Motor Vehicle Theft 1,490 1,981 +33.0 Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Violent Crimes 423 376 -11.1 Burglary 1,597 1,401 -12.3 Motor Vehicle Theft 409 479 +17.1

Source: Bureau of Crime Statistics, Attorney General’s Office, State of California