DALLAS (CBSNewsTexas.com) - Dallas is in the middle of an auto theft epidemic, with reports up 40% so far this year. The city's own crime analytics dashboard shows motor vehicle theft is the most commonly committed crime in Dallas. And while it takes just minutes to steal a car, many victims say DPD's response is painfully slow.
I-Team reporter Ginger Allen sat down with Chief Eddie Garcia to find out why this crime has gotten so out of hand. One of her first questions: is auto theft a priority for DPD? "Well, it is a priority," said Garcia. "But like most things, among the priorities you have to identify what comes first."
Garcia has always maintained that violent crime is the main focus for his officers, though he admits that those types of crimes are committed by people using stolen vehicles.
While he says DPD is committed to solving the crimes, in reality, most auto thieves get away. Last year, DPD reported a clearance rate of 4.5%. That means more than 95% of auto theft cases were not solved. "It doesn't surprise me," said Garcia. "As I mentioned before, it's a difficult crime to solve."
This mirrors a national trend: police across the country are unable to keep up with a surge in reported vehicle thefts. A CBS News investigation found similar clearance rates, with most major cities in the single digits.
Closer to home, though, other cities are having more success. Arlington, Fort Worth, and Garland's clearance rates are more than double that of Dallas.
"There's not a police chief that would tell you they're happy with those numbers," said Garcia. "I'm not happy with those numbers, I would tell you my detectives aren't happy with those numbers, but it's not for a lack of effort or a lack of care."
Chief Garcia says part of the problem is a lack of manpower.
"Staffing has always been an issue, there's no question about it," he said. "The City of Dallas is the ninth largest city in the country and I have about 12 individuals assigned to auto theft."
With more than 13,000 auto thefts reported last year, DPD's auto theft unit faces a crippling caseload, often leaving victims feeling frustrated and ignored.
"I want to know what you say to people that are out there complaining," said Ginger Allen. "Is DPD responding enough to this problem?"
"Well, I would say we're responding to the problem," said Garcia. "We may not be responding fast enough." According to the chief, he's looking at ways to cut down on the time it takes for an officer to make first contact with a victim. However, he's quick to point out that officers must first respond to higher-priority calls before property crimes.
While DPD's clearance rate is extremely low, Garcia says the recovery rate is much higher: approximately 75%. That means three out of four victims get their vehicle back, even if the thief is never found.
"We're doing the best we can," he said.
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