Stealing cars may seem like a straightforward crime, and largely the province of common street thugs.
But it’s a crime that has a huge economic impact, police say — and often involves big-time crooks who exactly are the type of people who like to tool around town in stolen luxury cars.
In this context, the work last year of the Orange County Auto Theft Taskforce can truly be appreciated — and recently it was, at the annual conference and expo of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The work in 2014 of the multi-agency task force, which includes officers from the Fullerton, Anaheim and Tustin PDs, as well as members from nine other agencies, resulted in Orange County seeing its largest drop in vehicle theft in more than four years, with a 13 percent reduction in total thefts compared to 2013.
For its work in 2014, highlighted by the takedown of a sophisticated SoCal vehicle theft organization in a law enforcement effort called “Operation Hogg Life,” OCATT received, at IACP’s confab in Chicago Oct. 24-27, the 2015 Vehicle Theft Award of Merit, Taskforce/Multiagency category.
“This is a pretty significant award,” said Det. Dave Navarro of the California Highway Patrol, an investigating officer on OCATT.
Fullerton PD Det. Robert Barnes, referring to Operation Hogg Life, said it was “great to see the unit recognized for that case (Hogg) and to be part of a unit that can conduct an investigation of that size and scope involving so many different jurisdictions.”
Operation Hogg Life originated with the Ontario Police Department.
Investigators with OCATT worked with the Ontario agency in identifying a sophisticated vehicle theft organization operating throughout Southern California.
The car-theft ring was identified as being responsible for more than 135 stolen vehicles — mostly high-end makes and models.
Operation Hogg Life was a massive and complex investigation that included nailing down the locations of suspects, surveillance and intelligence gathering.
Culminating a yearlong investigation, OCATT investigators, working with the Ontario Police Department and more that 15 other state and local agencies from four counties, served 55 warrants on Feb. 26, 2015.
These warrants led to the arrests of 51 suspects throughout San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles Counties, and the recovery of 147 vehicles with a total combined value of $4.5 million, Navarro said.
Navarro said one of the suspects arrested in Operation Hogg Life was wanted for homicide in L.A. County.
The Vehicle Theft Award of Merit, sponsored by the LoJack Corp., OnStar and the IACP Vehicle Theft Committee, was created for law enforcement agencies, task forces, councils, community partnerships and other theft prevention alliances worldwide to showcase the results of theft prevention and/or enforcement programs.
“Being part of OCATT and part of Operation Hogg Life helped me develop more expertise in identifying fraud in both vehicle sales and purchases,” Barnes said.
Added the detective: “Fraud is the way a lot of gang members are focusing their efforts on since they can make so much more money with much less risk and significantly less jail time with a property crime than a traditional style robbery.”
Formed more than 20 years ago, the Orange County Auto Theft Taskforce aims to reduce vehicle theft and put more professional car thieves behind bars.
The task force currently is comprised of a lieutenant commander, two sergeants and 14 full-time investigators and detectives, representing 12 participating agencies from the state, county and city level.
Participating agencies in OCATT are the Fullerton PD, Anaheim PD, Tustin PD, Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., Brea PD, Placentia PD, Buena Park PD, Laguna Beach PD, Newport Beach PD, the CHP, OCDA and the DMV.