Vehicle thefts after dropping for four straight years are on a slight upswing in Manteca.
The theft of vehicles within the city limits are running about 10 cars ahead of last year’s pace.
The slight increase comes after annual vehicle thefts dropped almost 60 percent from a peak of 798 in 2004 when a car was stolen every 11.4 hours on the streets of Manteca.
The reverse in auto thefts comes at a time when most other crime categories that are included in the FBI most serious crime groupings continue to drop in Manteca.
At the peak of the auto theft frenzy in Manteca, about 20 percent of all cars taken were either left with keys in the ignition or with engines running and unattended. It wasn’t unusual in 2004 for at least once a month for police to get a report of a car being stolen by someone who started it up to warm the engine and then went inside for a cup of coffee. What makes it ironic is post 1990 vehicle engineering plus Manteca’s mild weather makes warming up a vehicle superfluous.
The heavy meth trade that police leaders blamed on a voter proposition that essentially decriminalized the possession of the drug put Manteca in a precarious location sandwiched between Modesto and Stockton that jockeyed for several years for the No. 1 and No. 3 rating when it came to national per capita auto thefts. Those thefts have dropped but the Central Valley still ranks as one of the highest theft regions in the country.
There was a drop off of 127 auto thefts in 2005. The year didn’t start off on a good note, as the first week saw the theft of five vehicles including a marked Manteca Police unit that was stolen by a fleeing suspect who crashed it into trees on Fremont Avenue just off North Street.
Manteca Police were further hampered by the fact the overcrowded jails meant that if they arrested someone for auto theft there was a good chance that if they could not post bail before their trial they would be turned lose. At least three times during 2005 Manteca Police arrested auto theft suspects that were awaiting trial on other auto theft charges.
Police tackled the wave of auto thefts by setting up bait cars in high crime areas to catch auto thieves in the act and then cutting off the engine.
They also did a full-scale education effort telling the public repeatedly to not keep their engines running or keys in the ignition. At one point, a semi-truck tractor was stolen in front of a Manteca residence where the driver had left the engine running. Police – along with the CHP – got involved in a high speed chase and got lost when the theft took the truck off the Altamont Pass freeway and cut across train tracks and left the truck in a field and fled on foot.
At one point the police proposed making it a citable offense to leave your keys in the vehicle. Public sentiment derailed the move but the public heard the message.