Motor vehicle thefts in Wheat Ridge were down markedly through the first half of 2021 compared to the previous year, according to a statewide crime reporting program. Figures from the Colorado Automobile Theft Prevention Authority (CATPA), part of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, show Wheat Ridge reported 119 motor vehicle thefts through the end of June. That was down 65 percent from 2020’s year-end total of 340. Last year’s motor vehicle thefts were up 92 percent over 2019’s stolen vehicles total of 177. Of the 340 stolen vehicles, 39 were recovered and the estimated value of all stolen vehicles was nearly $2.6 million.
This year through June, Wheat Ridge reported 23 recovered vehicles and a total value of $1.1 million in stolen vehicles. The authority’s numbers also show most of 2020’s vehicle thieves were between the ages of 25 and 34. Just over 70 thefts happened between 9 p.m. and midnight and the same number occurred on a Thursday.
In interviews with the Neighborhood Gazette in July and August 2021, Police Chief Chris Murtha said he was unsure what might happen between now and the end of the year, so he could not forecast final motor vehicle theft numbers. “We are focused on issues around our hotels and … where we see most of our car thefts,” Murtha wrote in a text exchange, “and put individuals, specifically a Sargent [sic], in charge … to oversee day-to-day and weekly (incidents) so we’re more responsive.”
The department is also focused on vehicle recoveries, he added, along with the people who steal the vehicles and later dump them. “We’ve been successful working with some of our hotels in identifying people at those locations who exit from those vehicles,” Murtha wrote.
Residents were credited with “better behaviors,” such as not leaving their vehicles running outside a convenience store, Murtha continued. The COVID-19 pandemic likely helped lead to the jump in 2020 vehicle thefts, he noted. “There were less public transportation options and desperate people were using stolen vehicles as a means of transportation,” Murtha wrote. “We were definitely less pro-active during COVID, trying to keep our officers available for service. Now we are more proactive and I think those results are paying off.”
In an earlier interview, Murtha noted area jails had started to accept more lower-level offense arrests, so more repeat offenders or “professional criminals” might be caught. That could be part of the reason for the decrease in vehicle thefts. A lot of crimes in recent months were those of opportunity and survival, Murtha stated. He hopes that is addressed as more services for the homeless and unemployed return to pre-pandemic levels.
CATPA oversees the Colorado Uniform Crime Reporting Program, a statewide, cooperative statistical effort of law enforcement agencies in Colorado who report data on offenses, arrests and recovered property. Another program, the Colorado Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, investigates vehicle thefts and helps Denver metro area law enforcement agencies. Partner agencies include the Wheat Ridge, Lakewood, Denver and Aurora police departments; sheriff’s offices in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties; and the Colorado State Patrol.