How did Colorado become one of the worst states for vehicle theft? Auto theft task force officials, reformers disagree.

The Denver Post on

Published in Business News

The country is still dealing with a once-in-a-century pandemic, which has upended fundamental societal foundations and support systems and driven many people to desperation, Herod said. The job market has been through convulsions and buying a house is out of reach for many.

Case in point, she said, are rising auto theft numbers across the nation in the last couple of years — not just in Colorado. The Council on Criminal Justice found that motor vehicle theft rates were 14% higher across the United States in 2021 than in 2020.

“We know these penalties don’t act as deterrents,” Herod said. “Whether you’re a reform state or not a reform state, crime is up.”

Too much leniency

While the explosion in catalytic converter thefts from vehicles in Colorado has garnered the majority of headlines recently, the theft of vehicles in their entirety is far more prevalent.

Colorado was already coming off a rough patch for auto thefts before last year, with a 33% rise in stolen vehicles statewide in 2020 over 2019. That followed relatively stable levels in the category during the previous several years — there was even a 5% decline in stolen vehicles three years ago.


But the pandemic, which started in Colorado in early March 2020, ushered in a massive surge in vehicles disappearing from parking lots and neighborhood streets. From an average of 36 cars stolen a day in metro Denver in 2019, the number jumped to 55 in 2020 and to 75 last year, according to the task force.

The theft of 27,443 vehicles in metro Denver had an economic impact of $243 million last year, using the FBI’s economic impact estimate of $8,886 per stolen vehicle. Lakewood Police Cmdr. Mike Greenwell, who heads up the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, said what often goes unmentioned are the victims of this crime.

“What bothers me is what that does to our communities in terms of victims,” said Greenwell, noting that low-income families are often left marooned when their only car vanishes. “These people can’t afford it.”

He points directly at recent laws that have made the consequences for stealing a car “more lenient, more lenient, more lenient.” And that has led to an increasing number of repeat offenders who see little incentive to stop what they are doing.


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