Michigan Police Crack Down on Car Theft

Detroit Free Press via the Associated Press

Outside a suspected vehicle chop shop in the 10600 block of Stratman on Detroit’s east side, law enforcement officials prepared Thursday to search the dwelling.

“I saw a blind move in the window upstairs,” said Jo Ann Rottenbucher, a probation supervisor from the Michigan Department of Corrections Macomb bureau.

For nearly 20 minutes, they knocked on the front and side doors.

Finally, after no answer, Wayne County Sheriff Cpl. Lewis Yokom positioned himself in a sturdy stance.

Armed with a Haligan — a device used by firefighters to forcefully open steel doors — the group of officers became tense as Yokom prepared to knock out the door’s lock.

With their guns drawn, someone shouted, “Ready!”

Yokom nodded.

“Boom!” Yokom rammed the Haligan into the steel door lock. The lock buckled slightly.

“Boom!” Yokom rammed it again and the lock started to separate from the door frame.

By the fourth hit, the lock gave way. Officers kicked the door in and rushed into the house.

Some officers ran upstairs while others scurried to secure the basement, shouting “Police! Police! Identify yourself.”

A 28-year-old male was found in the house, dressed in blue jeans, a T-shirt and no shoes.

“I didn’t hear you! I didn’t hear anyone knocking. Man, I’m all the way upstairs,” the man said.

The man sat down and held his head with his hands as Wayne County Sheriff Investigator E.T. Smith Jr. poured on the questions. “You know we found a stolen 2003 Marauder in your driveway last night,” said Smith.

“I don’t know nothing about that,” replied the man. “I’m a stand-up guy. I don’t have any warrants out.”

This week, 31 law enforcement agencies from Wayne, Macomb, Washtenaw and Oakland counties joined forces in a crackdown on chop shops and auto theft rings, and to track down parole and probation violators charged with auto theft-related crimes.

The four-day project called ACTION — Arresting Car Thieves in Our Neighborhood — also involved 30 other government agencies, such as the U.S. Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Homeland Security, and two insurance companies.

As of Thursday night 113 arrests had been made, 30 vehicles recovered and 254 spot checks on parolees and those on probation conducted.

At the house on Stratman, Investigator Smith tells the man police have a warrant for his arrest from 2000 for receiving and concealing stolen auto parts.

“Oh that! No, no that’s a misunderstanding,” the man said. “I already went to court on that. There’s a lawsuit pending on that right now. That’s a dead issue.”

The officers disagreed. They arrested the man and took him to the 11th (Davison) Precinct for processing before taking him to the Wayne County Jail.

The Wayne County Sheriff’s Office had Larry LaFond of the National Insurance Crime Bureau identify alleged stolen parts in the home’s garage.

“We assist law enforcement ID stolen vehicles and recoveries. I’m identifying parts and components to confirm the identification of the vehicles,” said LaFond.

In the basement of the house, more car parts were found. A rear car seat, interior panels, odds and ends of car speakers and car moldings. The items were photographed and logged as evidence.

Meanwhile, the interrogation continued upstairs. “I have papers for all of my stuff. Let me go upstairs and get it,” the man pleaded. HUD Special Agent Michael Catinella gave a Detroit officer some papers and another set of car keys. “I found this stuff downstairs,” Catinella said, handing over the keys. “I’m sure the car is long gone by now.”

According to the Auto Theft Prevention Authority of Michigan, car thefts were up in 2004 by 31% in Macomb, 23% in Oakland and 10% in Wayne. Nationwide, a vehicle is stolen approximately every 20 seconds, according to data provided by the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office.

Wayne County Sheriff Warren Evans initiated ACTION.

“We don’t want everyone being territorial and fighting this problem in their own backyards. Everyone’s seen this as being a regional effort, and that’s why it’s been working so well,” Evans said Friday.

The goal of the effort is to cut auto theft by 30% in the region, said Evans. The idea is that all the arrest information retrieved will lead to further investigations and future arrests.

“We need to go after the places that are paying for those stolen parts and retagging them and changing the VIN numbers. Car thieves are a dime a dozen,” said Evans.

The ACTION program targeted 600 people wanted for auto-related crimes who have warrants for arrest, who failed to appear in court or who violated probation or terms of parole.

“It’s going to benefit the citizens all throughout the region. It’s going to help with the insurance rates,” Lawrence Meyers, chief of field operations for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, said Thursday.

Not all of the arrests made during the four-day sweep were auto-related.

In a senior residents complex in the 1300 block of East Canfield, a 63-year-old woman who has a 1999 arrest warrant for drug-related charges was picked up. A tip from an earlier auto-related arrest led to the woman’s arrest. Another resident was wanted for not paying child support.

“We’re here. We might as well pick him up since were here,” said Yokom.

Meanwhile, a call came to Yokom that a stolen 2004 Chevy Silverado has been found on East 8 Mile.

After arriving, Yokom and the other officers noted the car’s interior had been completely gutted and exterior accessories were missing. “The Insurance Auto Theft database will track a similar style car. We’ll check to see if another was recently wrecked. More than likely its was stolen for specific parts,” said Yokom as he looked over the truck.

Michigan State Police Detective Sgt. Julie Busch detailed how the car was probably stolen since the steering column was left undamaged. “They get the VIN number and tell a buddy who works at a dealership to get a copy of the key. Either that or they got a tow truck to take the car.”