LAKEWOOD, Colo. (KDVR) — Colorado is the worst state for auto theft per capita, according to Mike Greenwell, a Lakewood police commander who works with the Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force.

“Until there is accountability for people who commit auto thefts, we’re not going to see this change,” he told the Problem Solvers. “We’re not going to see any change in any crime until there is accountability for it.”

Greenwell expressed concern with repeat offenders who are released from jail before their cases are completed only to commit the crime again.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said.

According to an annual data assessment of car thefts, compiled by the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority-Metropolitan Auto Theft Task Force, car theft increased in the Denver metro area by 107% from 2019 through 2021, and thefts increased 83% statewide, the report indicated.

“It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic status is. It doesn’t matter how nice of a neighborhood you have or not. The thieves are trolling the streets, and they’re looking for cars,” Robert Force, the director of the state’s Auto Theft Prevention Authority said. “There is no area in the state of Colorado that’s exempt from auto theft.”

County data

The annual report found car theft increased, between 2019 and 2021, 116% in Jefferson County, 105% in Douglas County, and 119% in Denver County.

Thefts in Denver went from 4,883 in 2019 to 10,675 in 2021.

In Adams County, stolen vehicles jumped from 3,046 in 2019 to 5,565 in 2021, and Arapahoe County saw a 107% increase in car thefts – from 3,049 in 2019 to 6,306 in 2021.

Broomfield sees 172% increase

Stolen vehicles in Broomfield rose from 125 to 340 during those years, an increase of 172%.

Elaina Crowley, a high school student who kept her car unlocked with the keys inside it while it was parked on the street in front of her family’s Broomfield home, said she made a “really stupid mistake that I will never make again.”

A prowler drove away in her car in the morning darkness several months ago.

A neighbor’s surveillance camera captured the thief trying to open another car parked on the street before discovering Elaina’s car was unlocked with the keys inside it.

“This neighborhood – I’ve always presumed as safe,” she said. “I’ve never heard of cars being stolen from this neighborhood specifically.”

Crowley and her dad told the Problem Solvers that police recovered the vehicle with weapons and bags of drugs – like meth – inside it.

“It was actually the most disgusting, filthy place that I’ve ever seen,” Bob Crowley said. He said he took the car to a decontamination facility when it was recovered, so his daughter could resume driving the vehicle.

According to the data provided by the task force, the vehicle recovery rate in the metro area in 2021 was 92%.

However, the thieves are not always captured.

“They are eluding us a lot of the time,” Rachel Haslett, the public information officer for the Broomfield Police Department said.

Crowley told the Problem Solvers the police department has a suspect in mind after finding fingerprints in his daughter’s car. However, months after the vehicle was stolen, that suspect is not yet in custody.

Colorado thieves are different

Force said the type of theft happening in Colorado is different when compared to other states because there is a subculture of prolific thieves who are homeless drug users who steal cars to use them as beds, bathrooms, and living rooms before they ditch the vehicles for a new shelter.

“A lot of other states – we have not heard those strong responses of those anecdotal stories,” Force said.

He also said in response to the pandemic, offenders who committed property crimes – like car thefts – were not always kept behind bars.

“I think our thieves understood, ‘I’m probably not going to go to jail even if I get caught with it, so I’ll just go steal more cars,’” he said. “That seems to be somewhat of a pattern, especially with our prolific thieves who are involved in a lot of the drugs and that type of environment.”

Which cars are they taking?

Force said thieves have learned how to steal specific vehicles including Kia and Hyundai cars as well as pickup trucks made by Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge.

“The thieves, they know how to steal those cars,” Force said. “So, if they’re not puffing, they know how to overcome the securities.” However, most of the time, said Force, thieves are taking cars in which the keys have been left inside.