What A Year Spent At RATTF Taught One MVPD Captain About Vehicle Theft

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During the last year I served as Commander of the Santa Clara County Regional Auto Theft unit, I really came to understand the multitude of methods used to steal from the Mountain View community. In fact, last year the California Highway Patrol reported a 50% increase in auto thefts just in Santa Clara County. By understanding what motivates people to steal, we can potentially decrease theft rates and help keep our property safe in 2014 and beyond.

The most commonly stolen vehicle continues to be a mid-90’s Honda sedan. That is largely due to the ease in which the ignition can be overcome with a screwdriver or shaved key. The best defense against having your mid-90’s Honda stolen is to always lock your car, use an anti-theft device, like a steering wheel lock, and an alarm. This advice is not a guarantee, but it will help to deter the common criminal. Several other models of older cars fall victim to theft for the same reason.

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Data provided by National Insurance Crime Bureau (www.ncib.org)

When a newer car is stolen, it is almost always for one of the following reasons:

  • vehicle was left running and unattended
  • the plastic “valet key” was left in the vehicle
  • the vehicle’s keys were stolen

It is not surprising vehicle theft is higher in the winter months or during cold mornings. Often referred to as “warm-up thefts,” car owners will turn their vehicle on and then go back into their residence allowing the car to “warm-up” while left unsecured. Thieves are keen to this and will often case neighborhoods looking for just these opportunities.

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Top places to steal vehicles? Santa Clara County makes the top 10 according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (www.ncib.org).

Most consider vehicle theft as just a property crime, and it is a property crime. But my biggest takeaway while working at RATTF was that the thieves are usually not just your typical petty theft thieves. They are not youthful joyriders that take your car for an hour or two and leave it abandoned down the street, although this does happen. More often than not the car thief is involved in a variety of other serious crimes like burglaries, narcotics offenses and robberies. They sell and trade your vehicle to further their other criminal enterprises, or they use your vehicle to commit another crime to decrease their chances of getting caught.

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The more informed and aware we are as a community, the better equipped we will be to deter crime and protect ourselves, our families and our property. Some general, but very effective, crimes fighting tips include being aware of your neighborhood and surroundings. Call the police anytime you see a suspicious person or vehicle. When you see a suspicious vehicle, write down the license plate number and call the police right away, and try to provide the most detailed description of the suspect(s) as possible. Remember, criminals will sometimes case a neighborhood before committing their crimes and you could be the witness that leads to a solid arrest.


JessicaPortrait_3Captain Jessica Nowaski has been with the Mountain View Police Department since 1995 and has served as a Field Training Officer, Detective, Bike Patrol Officer, Peer Counselor, and Hostage Negotiator, to name a few. In 2008, Capt. Nowaski was promoted to Sergeant and then to Lieutenant in 2011 where she served as Patrol Watch Commander, Crisis Negotiation Team Commander and most recently Commander of the Santa Clara County Regional Auto Theft Task Force. At present, she is transitioning to be MVPD’s Investigation Services Division Captain overseeing the Investigations, Youth Services, and the Professional Standards Unit which encompasses internal affairs investigations, awards and commendations, policy and procedures and personnel, such as recruitment and hiring. Capt. Nowaski also oversees the Operational Services Unit, which includes special events and planning, permitting and the reserve police officer program. All of the internal training cadre sergeants also report into Capt. Nowaski including MVPD’s range program, drivers training and defensive tactics.

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