When it comes to spotting stolen vehicles while on patrol, Westminster Police Officer Bryan Cramer says it’s all about location.
“Motels are a hotspot for them,” Cramer says. “Houses that attract criminal activity.”
He’s built on many other factors, too, over his three years at the agency. And the work has paid off. On April 17, Cramer was honored alongside patrol officers across the county at the Auto Theft Advisory Committee (ATAC) Vehicle Theft Recovery Officer of the Year Awards.
Cramer received an award for the most stolen vehicle recoveries at the Westminster Police Department in 2018, ranking fifth among the top five in the county. He found 42 vehicles, nine of which are known as “rollin’ stolens,” those found occupied or in situations where a suspect was located later. The dollar amount of those finds totaled more than $400,000.
“The big motivator was my wife,” Cramer says. “Every time I got a stolen vehicle, I had to send her a text to brag.”
Every morning before work, she’d say: “Go get a stolen.”
As a patrol officer, Cramer enjoys the self-initiated work required to find stolen vehicles.
“Stolen vehicles are one of the last self-initiated felonies a patrol officer can get,” Cramer says.
If a stolen vehicle is worth more than $950 – which most are, he said – they are considered felonies. It takes active effort on a patrol officer’s part to search for and locate stolen vehicles. So in addition to location, other elements figure into Cramer’s crime-solving process. For example, he looks at crime trends in the city, general auto theft trends, and other details of a particular vehicle.
“How are they parked?” he asks, adding that he looks for clues such as whether a car’s windows are rolled down on a cold morning.
Lately a big trend has been stolen vehicles in the way of identity fraud: The suspect will purchase or lease a vehicle at a car lot with a stolen credit card under someone else’s name. Because of this trend, many stolen vehicles end up being higher end cars like Lexuses.
One of Cramer’s stolen vehicle finds involved investigative work, which he enjoys. With the help of auto theft Det. Andy Pinvidic, Cramer located a suspect and authored his first search warrant to collect DNA to tie to the case.
“The investigations process is ultimately where I’d like to end up,” Cramer says.
In addition to Pinvidic, Cramer says when he first set the goal for himself to earn a California Highway Patrol 10851 pin for stolen vehicles (10851 is the police code for a stolen vehicle), he knew the person whose brain he had to pick: Officer Dan McCarthy.
“Everyone around the department knows him as the stolen vehicle guy,” Cramer says.
McCarthy, who recently retired and won the ATAC award consistently for many years, was happy to help.
“I picked Dan’s brain,” Cramer says. “If you want to know how to find stolen vehicles, you have to ask the expert.”
Not only did Cramer meet his goal, he surpassed it – earning three pins and the ATAC nomination.
“He’s very, very driven to be successful,” Commander Darin Upstill says. “He’s someone who likes to set goals for himself. … He’s definitely a good role model for some of the younger officers coming up.”
Even though Cramer has an eye on the detective bureau, he’s very motivated while on patrol.
“There’s no better thrill … you run a plate and it comes back stolen or if it’s occupied, that takes it up to even a bigger level,” Cramer says.