Frustrating response to auto theft

When it comes to the items people own and have stolen, some items are significantly more than the sum of their parts.

Consider the bicycle, often the first independent moving agent in our lives, the vehicle on which young worlds expand beyond immediate neighborhoods.

Bicycles can be seen as metaphors for life. At first they are not easy to mount. Balance must be achieved. Constant adjustment is necessary.

When people have bicycles stolen – as is often the case in Toronto – it’s not so much like losing an object as losing a relationship, a friend, a horse.

Now consider automobiles, in our happy car culture, the medium by which many come of age, show up on dates and road trips, make statements about personalities, politics and, too often encounter disasters.

Having a car stolen – as many GTA residents know in the midst of a car theft crisis – is not just a loss of property, but a profound violation and assault on the person.

As The Star’s Kevin Donovan recently reported, the injury becomes even more infuriating when the police don’t seem to care.

Donovan reported local auto theft victims who, through the use of high-tech tools, tracked down their stolen vehicles and reported the scene to the police, but no one showed up.

As of Wednesday, 4,414 vehicles have been stolen in Toronto, up nearly 60% from last year. Donovan reported that thieves ship them overseas in an organized crime pipeline that Interpol says has ties to terrorism.

Through ongoing reporting, Donovan has learned how reports of these cases to police will be handled.

“You will be put on hold. A dispatcher will take your phone number. Hours later, or days later, an agent will call to take vehicle details over the phone. Some time later, a detective from a local office will call and write down the same information. Eventually, you’ll receive the only information your insurance company has asked for since you told them your car was stolen: the “police report number.” Then it’s case closed.

In a statement to the Star, Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association, attempted to explain what appears to be an indifferent response.

He acknowledged “how people are personally affected by car theft; not just the inconvenience and financial stress, but the psychological impact.

Then came the explanations.

The Toronto Police Service has shrunk by more than 400 officers over the past decade. The service receives an average of 5,000 calls per day and the number of priority calls has increased by 19% between 2018 and 2021.

For car owners, the key to a quick police response seems to be catching the culprits in the act.

Reid said a car theft in progress would get a Priority 1 rating, the same as a shooting, homicide or threat to life. Calls hours after the fact would likely be prioritized 4, 5 or 6.

In May, the Toronto Police Service established a task force to combat organized crime auto theft, reallocating $2.3 million to the new unit.

Donovan said he had asked police for three months for details of the unit’s activities. The police repeatedly told her that they would “review” the claims.

Car theft victims might recognize the pattern of traffic jams, epic frustration, and lost hope of ever seeing their car again.

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