Police Auto Theft Unit Disbanding

Tarrant County sheriff says funding in doubt for "wildly successful" program

By Scott Gordon
|  Tuesday, Jul 19, 2011  |  Updated 11:40 PM CDT
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A Tarrant County police task force that made hundreds of car theft arrests with

Scott Gordon, NBCDFW.com

A Tarrant County police task force that made hundreds of car theft arrests with "bait cars" will disband next month.

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A police task force that nabbed hundreds of suspected car thieves by bringing "bait cars" to Tarrant County will disband next month, Sheriff Dee Anderson said Tuesday.

"This has been such a great program," Anderson said.

But he said doubts about its future funding were a factor in deciding to dissolve the unit.

"The perfect storm lined up -- people leaving, the agencies being squeezed, the funding being uncertain, all of those things," he said.

The Tarrant County Regional Auto Crimes Task Force is made up of detectives from Fort Worth, Arlington, Saginaw, Haltom City, Hurst and Euless. It has a yearly budget of more than $1 million, which comes from a $1 fee tacked onto Texas auto insurance policies.

Officers assigned to the unit will return to their departments, but it's unclear how many will continue to investigate auto thefts full-time.

Under the bait car program, officers parked cars in high-crime areas. Thieves had no idea the vehicles were wired with hidden cameras and a GPS, which led officers right to them within minutes.

In a way, the task force is also a victim of its own success, Anderson said.

Since it formed in 1991, the number of stolen cars has plummeted by 75 percent. The bait cars helped drive the drop, he said.

"You can't beat a case where you've got them on video breaking into a car, stealing a car," Anderson said. "It's very tough to go to court and say, 'I didn't do that,' or, 'That wasn't me.' It's been wildly successful."

Now, cities such as Fort Worth and Arlington still plan to run their own bait car programs and will investigate stolen cars.

But the smaller cities stand to lose most without a regional approach, some officers say.

Anderson said he'll be watching for any jump in auto thefts.

"We can attack it if it does happen," he said. "I'll be surprised if we see a major upsurge, because a lot of these people working on the task force now will go back and continue to work auto thefts."

The unit's $1 million budget will go back to the state, which could use it to help balance a huge budget shortfall.

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