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Police launch new campaign after vehicle thefts almost double in York Region in just one year

A York Regional Police patch is shown Dec, 19, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey A York Regional Police patch is shown Dec, 19, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Arlyn McAdorey

Police in York Region have launched a new crime prevention campaign after vehicle thefts almost doubled in the region in just one year.

On Tuesday, York Regional Police (YRP) kicked off Operation Auto Guard, which Chief Jim MacSween called a “robust and multifaceted” crime prevention campaign that is focused on using data, crime prevention tools, and community engagement to tackle the increasing theft of high-end vehicles, especially in the south end of the region.

According to YRP, vehicle theft is up by 200 per cent since 2019 in York Region.

So far this year, police have recorded upwards of 3,300 stolen vehicles with roughly 90 per cent of those occurrences happening in the cities of Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and Markham, they said.

During today’s news conference, MacSween said an average of about 12 vehicles a day, approximately 370 a month, are stolen in York Region.

To better understand and address this problem, he said that crime analysts identified which neighbourhoods in York Region are most prone to vehicle thefts.

Police have even gone so far as to identify specific homes in so-called “red zones” that have high-risk vehicles registered to them and are in the process of visiting these residences one-by-one to share crime prevention tips, he said.

They’re also handing out roughly 21,000 Faraday bags, a tool used to block signal duplicating devices that replicate key fobs, to people in these communities.

Further, police will be hosting community forums across each district, and are distributing pamphlets throughout identified neighbourhoods in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and Markham and disseminating information through local Neighbourhood Watch programs and on social media.

Lastly, YRP has also put together a list of the top vehicles that are being targeted by “these organized crime groups,” MacSween said. At this time, they include: Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 350, Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Ram 1500, GMC Yukon, and Chevrolet Suburban.

“Operation Auto Guard will ensure that YRP adequately equips our citizens with important crime prevention measures enhancing resiliency within our communities and safeguarding our neighbourhoods against auto theft,” he said, adding vigilance begins at home and is a “shared responsibility” as the community plays an important role in “reducing the opportunities for vehicle theft.”

MacSween said some of the ways citizens can help with this effort include investing in home security cameras, parking vehicles inside the garage, not leaving key fobs by the door and storing them far away and in a Faraday bag, if possible, using steering wheel or panel locking devices, installing aftermarket GPS devices and deeper kill switches, and purchasing data port locking devices to prevent cloning.

YRP Chief Jim MacSween speaks during a Sept. 26 news conference on a new crime prevention targetting auto thefts.

Supt. Graham Beverly, also of YRP, said police will also be providing tips on what vehicle owners should do if they fall victim to theft and the important role aftermarket tracking devices can play, pointing to one instance just this past weekend where this kind of device helped investigators locate four stolen vehicles valued at more than $250,000.

“This is just one example of the opportunities the public has to assist in either preventing the theft or assisting in recovering stolen vehicles,” he said.

“Our goal with this initiative is to bring crime prevention tips to the forefront of people's minds, to assist York Regional Police and our partner agencies in deterring theft of vehicles. … This initiative is hoped to bring educational tips to the public to assist in reducing these incidents.”

Aside from this latest campaign, YRP has stepped up targeted enforcement and other large-scale, joint-forces operations with its police and community partners.

The force is also currently working in partnerships and collaborating with multiple sectors across the country and internationally, including CN Rail and Canadian Border Services.

“That investigation alone recovered over 250 vehicles with more than $19 million and resulted in over 30 people being brought before the courts,” Beverly said.

York Regional Police’s ongoing efforts to reduce vehicle theft include lobbying with insurance companies to implement incentive-base reduction programs for GPS installations and anti-theft devices, and working with vehicle manufacturers by sharing intelligence so that they can enhance security measures. The service is also part of a provincial Task Force to address vehicle theft.

“All of these partnerships cannot be overstated as we continuously rely on each other, to enhance policies, share intelligence, and conduct joint force operations to dismantle organized crime groups,” MacSween said.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca said the amount of vehicle thefts seen in recent years in York Region is heading in a “troubling direction” and those involved in this kind of criminal activity are “deploying increasingly sophisticated methods” to steal vehicles, which require an “increasingly sophistical response.”

He vowed that his municipality would do everything it can to support the efforts of the police and advocate for more help from other levels of government.

David West, the mayor of Richmond Hill, agreed.

“The amount of car thefts that have been happening recently has been alarmingly higher than it has been in the past and as was said before, the techniques that are being used by these thieves are far more sophisticated than they've ever been,” he said.

“I really applaud York Regional Police for continuing to be on the forefront of being active and proactive in the types of crime that we expect to be under control in our community.” Top Stories

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