The following statement was presented by Commander Robert Contee to the District of Columbia Council Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, Honorable Phil Mendelson, Chair, on June 28, 2007, at the John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC.
Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, members of the committee, and guests. My name is Robert Contee, and I am the Commander of the Sixth District of the Metropolitan Police Department. Thank you for allowing me to testify today about the Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Act of 2007, Bill 17-138.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) supports the Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Act, which would establish a D.C. Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Commission. Broadly speaking, the Commission would help to seek new ways to combat auto theft in Washington, DC.
Before we talk more about the Commission, I think it is important to understand a little about auto theft trends in DC. My written testimony includes this information in a graph. Over the past 40 years, auto theft trends in DC have fluctuated significantly. Auto theft rose to over 11,000 auto thefts per year from 1968 through 1970, a time of significant upheaval when many crimes increased in the District and across the country. Auto theft then plummeted in the 1970s. Although crime trends reflect a variety of factors, the most significant factor in this drop was likely skyrocketing gas prices and shortages after the Arab oil embargo. Auto theft then began to climb steadily in the 1980s, jumping to new levels as gas prices dropped. Since the mid 1980s, between 6,000 to 10,000 cars have been stolen in DC each year. The good news is that auto thefts have been in decline the past few years, falling more than 25 percent since 2003, to just over 7,000 thefts last year.
Since 2004, MPD has been very focused on driving auto theft down. I would like to note that the Police Foundation, which has submitted written testimony in support of this bill, has been a strong partner in this effort, providing critical support and funding. To continue the progress we have made, we need to be one step ahead of offenders. Innovation in prevention, enforcement, investigation, and prosecution are critical to moving forward. The Department supports this bill and the Commission it would establish because it would ensure that the Department and the city have a steady partner focused on auto theft and committed to innovation.
The bill ensures this commitment not only by establishing the Commission, but by dedicating funds for programs related to improving auto theft prevention, enforcement, investigation, and prosecution. For example, the Commission might grant funds for the establishment or enhancement of multi-agency vehicle theft enforcement teams and other detection/apprehension programs. Funding might also be provided for prevention efforts focused on specific neighborhoods with high rates of vehicle theft. We would also hope that the Commission might fund intensive social services programs for repeat juvenile offenders and their families. This is particularly important since auto theft is frequently a gateway crime to increased delinquent or criminal behavior.
The Department does have one concern about the bill as written. The legislation would place the Commission under MPD, which might create a conflict of interest, or at least the appearance of one. MPD would be likely to apply for grant funding that the Commission will provide. However, we expect that other organizations and communities would also be applying. To avoid any appearance of MPD influencing the financial resources granted through the Commission, the Commission should be independent from the Department.
I probably don’t need to explain why each individual auto theft prevented is so important for that single car owner. Beyond that, it is important to recognize that reducing auto theft will ultimately benefit all District car owners by driving down the higher auto insurance premiums paid by District residents. It is a win-win for the city and our car owners.
I would like to commend and thank Councilmember Mendelson for proposing this important legislation to help the Department and the city continue to drive down auto theft. I am happy to answer any questions you may have at this time.