Police Pursuits Involving Stolen Cars Appear to Be on the Rise - NBC Southern California
Southern California Pursuits

Southern California Pursuits

Coverage and raw video of Southern California's wild pursuits

Police Pursuits Involving Stolen Cars Appear to Be on the Rise

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Pursuits in Southern California often include dangerously high speeds, car crashes and at times even gunfire. NBC4 finds an alarming trend many chases have in common. Hetty Chang reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017)

    Antonio Moore could not take his eyes off the TV when he realized police were chasing a suspected car thief from Colton to Long Beach in his Ford Taurus.

    "I was on the edge of my seat," Moore said. "I was sitting there hoping and praying. Please don’t crash that car, please don’t run these intersections."

    The driver who was driving Moore's car was speeding recklessly, often more than 100 miles per hour and blowing red lights, putting innocent lives at risk.

    Moore reported his car stolen 24 hours before the high speed chase.

    "It brought anger to me! This guy, he doesn’t even know me. I’m the person who the car belongs to and I’m watching you tear my car apart and I don’t even know you!" Moore said.

    Police arrested the driver after he ran out of gas. But, two weeks later, Moore -- a disabled veteran -- still didn't have his car back.

    "It's gone, what am I going to do? It’s not easy to just go out and buy another car tomorrow," he said.

    More than a third of the 275 police pursuits NBC4 has covered from May 1 until now have involved stolen cars.

    "Stolen cars is one of the highest percentages of pursuits because they don’t want to get caught," said James Erwin, an auto-burglary detective with the LAPD.

    Thieves usually steal popular cars like Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans, he said.

    On average, there are 30 stolen cars a week in the 77th Division, which includes portions of Crenshaw and South LA.

    "We call it criminal Uber -- anytime -- criminal joy riding ... they take a car from point A to point B."

    Erwin says most cars are dumped before they are ever reported stolen, making the thief hard to track.

    He said it's "very difficult" unless the suspect is driving the car and the authorities pull them over. But that's when a situation can turn dangerous -- or even deadly -- for police, for the suspect or for those on the street.

    "Every time I pass a pedestrian, every time I pass a car, it’s potentially fatal," Erwin said.

    In California, 25 percent of all pursuits end in a collision, according to 2016 data from the California Highway Patrol. But, that percentage doubled to 50 percent when we focused on stolen car pursuits we covered.

    Cristina, who does not want to use her last name, was another victim who watched a car thief turn her Honda into a weapon repeatedly by ramming other drivers. The thief eventually ditched her car and ran into a school in session.

    Although he was arrested, Cristina’s family was left with hundreds of dollars in damages.

    "I was upset because my husband worked so hard for his car. For somebody to take it and do all that to it," she said.

    No one was seriously hurt in that pursuit, but we have seen how a stolen car chase can escalate to gunfire. More than half the pursuits we covered that involved a police shooting also involved stolen car suspects.

    Detective Erwin says authorities don't want car thieves to get away. But police must make the tough call of balancing the seriousness of the crime against the dangers of the pursuit.

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