Crimetracker Investigation: Stolen vehicles across Jefferson Parish

JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - Throughout Jefferson Parish, thieves steal hundreds of vehicles every year. The victims are often left dealing with insurance companies and no transportation. In this Crimetracker Investigation, FOX 8 obtained the calls for service data for auto theft in Jefferson Parish, including incident report numbers and locations.

"We still have our thefts out there. We still have our thefts out there. We still have a large number of them, but at the end of the day, the number is significantly smaller than it was in the 90s," Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.

In 2016, deputies investigated 705 stolen vehicles compared to 671 last year. Lopinto said there were fewer incidents over the past decade because of a crackdown in the auto industry.

"They have better safety features where less keys are being used and the electronic remotes that open and start vehicles are harder to defeat," Lopinto said.

He said there are two reasons why criminals steal vehicles. In some cases, he said thieves are literally shopping for certain parts or types of vehicles.

"Maybe they're looking for a specific tailgate off of a specific truck, so they'll look for that vehicle. It would either be a burglary of that vehicle, or they'll steal the entire truck," Lopinto said.

In some cases, the stolen vehicles are used to commit other crimes.

"They'll go steal someone's car, go commit an armed robbery and then dump the car," Lopinto said.

"I was hoping that it was so pretty that they don't want to cut it up. They just want to ride around in it, and maybe they'll get caught," Raymond Cardaro said.

Cardaro became a victim last month.

"It only had like 137,000 miles on it, so that was my retirement vehicle," Cardaro said.

He had a Ford F-250. It's the make and model of the most stolen vehicle in Jefferson Parish.

"Those vehicles are generally seen as work vehicles, so up until this year, they still didn't have the key features built into the key system," said JPSO Lt. Mike Cummings.

Investigators say the security system on the F-250 is one of the easiest to manipulate, making it the most popular among thieves.

"I just looked out of my window like that, and I pressed the lock button," Cardaro said.

He said he remembers locking his truck before it was stolen. Surveillance video shows the thieves slowly pulling away with Cardaro's Ford F-250 around 5:30 in the morning.

"When I saw that truck gone, I fell to my knees," Cardaro said.

Cardaro hopes deputies find it. Meanwhile, in 2016, deputies recovered 785 stolen vehicles. They found 890 stolen vehicles last year.

"The car that is stolen today, we may catch the individual driving that car the next day because he ran through one of our LPR cameras. That person is not stealing a car tomorrow because he's lost the opportunity," Lopinto said.

LPR, or license plate recognition cameras, are installed throughout Jefferson Parish and help deputies make arrests and recover vehicles.

"We also have mobile cars that have LPR cameras on them, so we also ride through our parking lots or apartment complexes or down the street. We pick up the license plates that are there," Lopinto said.

Often times, thieves dump stolen vehicles on the side of the road. Thieves will sometimes set a stolen car on fire to destroy evidence. Cummings said a car thief may think he's hiding all the evidence, but that isn't so.

"There's almost always physical evidence left behind in some form or fashion. We've recovered fingerprints. We recovered DNA out of burned-out vehicles. The most important part is the identity of the vehicle," Cummings said.

The identity of the vehicle comes from the VIN number. VIN numbers are always located in the dash and door frame, but they're also etched into more than a dozen other hidden spots around the vehicle. Only law enforcement can find out exactly where the manufacturer placed them.

"We have gone so far as we've taken a vehicle almost completely apart to get some of he concealed VINS," Cummings said.

There are things you can do to prevent becoming a victim.

"Currently, about 20 percent of our vehicles stolen are stolen because the owners are leaving the keys inside the vehicle, unattended and unlocked," Cummings said.

Deputies say having a car alarm will also act as a deterrent.

"If there is an obstacle to getting into your car, they are probably going to move on to the next car that doesn't have an obstacle," Cummings said.

Lopinto said it's about opportunity.

"We do have a percentage of people that leave their keys in their vehicle. Well, let me be clear. That burglar that was just looking around, if they get into your car and they're looking for some loose change and they find your keys in the cup holder, you may become the victim of an auto theft," he said.

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