GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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January 2, 2013

State drops winning theft task force

At a time when Massachusetts was reputed to be the nation’s stolen car capital among states, then-Gov. Michael S. Dukakis launched his own crackdown on the $100-million-a-year business reaped by auto theft rings.

In November 1993, Dukakis created The Governor’s Auto Theft Strike Force, a 25-member unit designed to monitor high car-theft areas and track stolen cars to theft rings.

The original task force included five FBI agents, five state troopers, five Boston police officers, five metropolitan police officers and five Registry of Motor Vehicles inspectors. Over nearly three decades since its inception, the strike force has been credited with saving millions of dollars through its recovery of stolen vehicles and busting of theft rings and chop shops which sell stolen car parts.

“They’ve done good work,” said Daniel Johnston, executive director of the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts.

“Theft claims between 1987 and 2011 dropped 89 percent in Massachusetts. Theft is no longer the epidemic it once was in the state,” Johnston said.

Yet, despite the millions of dollars the strike force has saved in reduced auto theft claims, the state has decided to disband the unit now manned by state troopers for fiscal reasons.

“This was a move made to enhance patrol presence in the context of a tight budget situation,” State Police spokesman David Procopio said. “The auto theft unit was certainly a valuable unit for us; unfortunately resources are finite, and we made a management decision that prioritized uniformed road patrols.

“The Department closed its auto theft unit and reassigned the unit’s troopers, who formerly investigated property crimes, to uniformed patrol duties, where they will join our first-responder mission to protect the lives and safety of people who live in and travel through our state,” Procopio added. “This will enhance the patrol force that removes dangerous drivers from our roads, helps motorists involved in crashes, and responds to critical incidents in our cities, towns and neighborhoods. The decision ensures adequate staffing in the barracks in the most cost-effective manner.”

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