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What Missouri Could Learn From A $1 Fee Michigan Charges To Fight Car Theft

Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City police recover a stolen Cadillac and make an arrest. Stolen cars are up 20 percent in the last year in the city.

Auto theft is up 20 percent in the last year in Kansas City. It’s the only property crime on the rise nationwide.

So what can you do?

In a few states, they charge you a little more for your auto insurance to pay for more cops and prosecutors.

Michigan is one of those states. For years, it was the stolen car capital of America.

"It's not just the stealing of automobiles. There's fraud that's behind it. There's major crimes, there's so many different aspects to auto thefts," says Michael Johnson, an inspector from the Michigan State Police. He runs something called the Auto Theft Prevention Authority (ATPA). "The four main functions of our prevention authority investigation, apprehension, prosecution and prevention," he says.

In the last ten years, auto thefts in Michigan have decreased 60 percent, according to ATPA data.

It is all paid for by a one dollar surcharge on every auto insurance policy in Michigan. In all, Johnson says the authority spends $7 million dollars on 11 auto theft teams, prosecutors, an intelligence center and a crime analyst.

MATA found drivers save an average of $84 a year on their insurance because of the reduction in auto thefts.

Michigan was the first to create an auto theft authority in 1986. Colorado created one soon after. Ninety-two percent of stolen cars are recovered in Colorado, the authority says on its website, "40 percentage points above the national average."

Representatives of auto insurance companies sit on both the Colorado and Michigan authority boards. Insurers have a vested interest in reducing stolen cars. "When their costs go up, everyone else's costs go up, so your premiums are going to increase,” says Eric Anderson a fraud investigator with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

While authorities in Michigan and Colorado have an intelligence division and crime analysts to help investigate stolen autos, cops in Kansas and Missouri are mostly on their own.

"I don’t like to throw around the word epidemic, but there’s a lot, a lot of them out there,” says Officer Alexander Skinner from the Kansas City Police Department. Skinner spends much of his time tracking stolen autos with license plate readers placed around the city.

Lots of KCPD officers are equipped with software that alerts them when a license plate reader gets a hit on a stolen car.

In Missouri, where the crime continues to spiral up, there is not a holistic approach to stolen cars.

"If we talk about how we're going to fix this, we have to spend some money," says Cpl. Nate Bradley with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

He blames much of the rise in car thefts on a change in Missouri law in 2012 that now allows most cars ten years or older to be sold for scrap without a title.

More auto thefts, he argues, should mean more auto theft investigators. "Kansas City does not have a full-time auto theft unit. The Missouri State Highway Patrol does not have a full-time auto theft unit."

But resources may be on the way.

"One option that would be considered on the table is to have a surcharge on either an insurance policy or a license plate or something of that nature," state Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, tells KCUR. He is working on a bill that would pump more money into auto theft investigations and prevention, similar to the Michigan  and Colorado authorities.

Right now, Spencer says, he’s working with police, state agencies and the insurance industry. "They all have the same end goal and they would like to this problem to stop. The question is how we get there. There are some differences there that have not been worked out."

Spencer says he wants to have legislation written for the upcoming session but doesn’t expect anything to pass until 2020.

With auto theft booming, any help could come none to soon.

Sam Zeffis KCUR's metro reporter. You can follow Sam on Twitter @samzeff

You deserve to know what your taxpayer dollars are paying for and what public officials are doing on your behalf – I’ll work to report on irresponsible government spending in the Kansas City area and shed light on controversies that slow government down. And when you hear my voice in the morning, you know you’re getting everything you need to start your day. Email me at sam@kcur.org, find me on Twitter @samzeff or call me at 816-235-5004.
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