The bait car program was launched in Nelson amid much fanfare in 2011. Although no bait vehicle has actually been stolen

Auto theft minimal in West Kootenay, stats show

Our area is hardly a hotbed of hot cars, according to a database created by The Vancouver Sun.

Our area is hardly a hotbed of hot cars, according to a database created by The Vancouver Sun.

Using information supplied by ICBC, the newspaper put together an interactive map that showed the frequency of auto crime in the province, including all auto thefts, thefts from autos, and vandalism reported to the provincial insurer from 2009-12.

As it turns out, stolen car claims in this area are rare: no community recorded double digits in a single year. The highest total was nine in Castlegar in 2009. Thefts from vehicle claims are similarly uncommon, with less than a handful in each place per year.

Vandalism, however, is a lot more prevalent: Nelson and its immediate area saw 23 cases last year resulting in insurance claims and 19 the previous year. Trail recorded 29 cases in 2009 and 42 cases in 2010, although many were blamed on a single culprit. A 40-year-old man pled guilty to two charges but was suspected in 84 incidents.

Smaller communities, while not immune, see auto crime even less often. Slocan only had two incidents of vandalism over the four years, both recorded in 2010.

The ICBC numbers don’t necessarily match what is reported to police departments. Nelson police, for instance, recorded 13 stolen vehicle complaints in 2012, only a few of which resulted in insurance claims. Hardly any thefts from vehicles were on ICBC’s radar, even though police responded to 47 incidents last year, down from 91 in 2010.

“We don’t have a very significant problem here by and large,” chief Wayne Holland told the Star. “But even one auto theft or break in is going to concern the victim.”

Holland brought the Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team’s bait car program to Nelson in 2011 after working with it in the Lower Mainland. The police-owned vehicles have engines that can be disabled remotely and are equipped with GPS systems and on-board video and audio systems.

Since the program began in 2003, over 1,200 arrests have been made and BC has seen a 71 per cent decrease in auto theft, although not all of it can be attributed to bait cars. BC still had the fourth-worst auto theft rate in the country in 2011, after the Prairie provinces, with 289 vehicles stolen per 100,000 people compared to 239 per 100,000 Canada-wide.

No one has actually stolen a bait car in Nelson, but someone made an unsuccessful attempt on a trailer and another person looked over a truck, Holland said, adding that for many would-be thieves, knowing bait cars are in use is enough to discourage potential crimes.

“The average car thief is not that smart, but smart enough to know they’re cooked if they do [steal a bait car],” he said. “Part of the success of IMPACT and the bait program is to get the message out that we can film and record them, which results in a near 100 per cent conviction rate.”

Belonging to IMPACT comes at no additional burden to local taxpayers, he added. While Holland wouldn’t reveal operational specifics of the program, he did say if they notice trends in the vehicles being swiped, they can obtain bait cars in those makes and models.

He also said in the rare cases that cars are actually stolen around Nelson, it’s typically for a joyride, and police are usually able to recover the missing vehicle within 72 hours. In one case, a single mom newly arrived in town got her car back the same night. Police also arrested three men a few months ago for stealing from vehicles, one of whom turned out to be one of Calgary’s most prolific thieves.

So has the bait car program been successful?

“I’m going to hazard a guess and say yes, probably, but let’s also be honest and say Nelson didn’t have that significant a problem to begin with,” Holland says. “I would rather see our stats remain low. Whether it’s due to the bait car or [having a] safe community, I don’t care.”