Log In

Reset Password

Colorado auto theft group meets in Cortez

Rise in car thefts part of statewide trend

A Colorado State Patrol program dedicated to preventing auto theft met at the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office on July 20 to discuss problems facing law enforcement in the Southwest.

According to data presented at the meeting, auto thefts are increasing in Colorado, and Montezuma County is no exception. Sheriff Steve Nowlin and detectives from several local law enforcement agencies spoke with members of the Colorado Auto Theft Prevention Authority about the need for more staff and resources to combat the trend.

CATPA members shared data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations that showed an almost 20 percent increase in Colorado auto thefts from 2015 to 2016, after adjusting for population growth, making it the fastest-growing crime in the state. More than 19,000 auto thefts were reported in 2016, compared with fewer than 16,000 in 2015.

“All other crime that went up was in single digits,” said Robert Force, CATPA’s executive director.

A crime report released by the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office this year also showed an increase, with 10 aggravated vehicle thefts reported in 2016 compared with six in 2015.

Although the trend is statewide, it can look different in the Southwest than it does in big cities like Denver, Colorado State Patrol investigator Wayne Jones said. For example, the region gets more ATV and trailer thefts than other parts of the state, but the biggest difference, Jones said, is in the ratio of officers to square miles of land.

“We have problems that you’re probably not even hearing from other task forces,” he said. “I have one sheriff’s office that has four deputies, including the sheriff, in my response area. How can we deal with auto theft when they’re just trying to keep up with normal things?”

Jones said the open space and wilderness that draw people to Montezuma County can cause problems for officers, especially when dealing with thefts. Since they don’t have the manpower to cover that space, law enforcement agencies often rely on one another, the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management to help with investigations. Jones also suggested that law enforcement agencies improve communication by pooling their information on auto thefts. Force said his agency would look into it.

One of the most troubling aspects of auto thefts, Force said, is that anecdotal evidence suggests more car thieves are carrying weapons or using the stolen cars as weapons.

“The last officers that have been shot in this area, that would be (Cortez) officer Claxton, and Chris Cutrone, a trooper,” he said. “All that is from stolen vehicles.”

Many of the car thieves who are caught in the region come from out of state, he said, and they are often connected with other serious crimes such as drug trafficking. While police and sheriff’s deputies occasionally deal with joy riders, he said they generally approach car theft investigations expecting to encounter dangerous criminals. Detectives from the Cortez and Durango police departments who attended the meeting agreed.

Force thanked the officers for their feedback and said he would take their concerns back to the state CATPA office.

“We’ll be coming back here more often,” he said.

The day after the meeting, Montezuma County Sheriff’s deputies and Cortez police arrested a suspect in an Albuquerque car theft after a high-speed chase.

Aug 8, 2017
Former Cortez officer pleads guilty to misconduct
Jul 27, 2017
Police Blotter
Jul 27, 2017
Cortez police report rash of thefts from cars
Jul 26, 2017
Sheriff Blotter
Jul 21, 2017
Suspect in car chase contaminates, shuts down Montezuma jail