By Kimberly Miller
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Four-wheel drive owners beware Ä your vehicles are number one on the hit list of Tucson car thieves.
Of the 18 vehicles reported stolen from the University of Arizona campus this semester, seven were Jeep Cherokees and two were GMC trucks, said UAPD Sgt. Brian Seastone.
Seastone said the number of car thefts since Jan. 1 is higher than it was at this time last year.
Since 1991, 191 auto thefts have been reported on the UA campus, 66 of those thefts occurred in 1994.
UAPD Sgt. Salvatore Celi said car thefts are increasing and the main targets are four-wheel drive vehicles.
"In the last couple of weeks we've been hit pretty hard," Celi said. "Vehicle thefts are skyrocketing everywhere and the majority of the vehicles disappearing are almost always four-wheel drive," Celi said.
Celi said most thefts occur between noon and 4 p.m. He said four-wheel drives are main targets for theft because of their popularity in South America, Central America and Mexico.
"I know four-wheel drives are in high demand not only in Mexico but also in Central and South America," Celi said.
The City of Tucson has experienced a 275 percent increase in the number of car thefts since 1991 and in 1994 an average of 18 cars per day were stolen, said Sgt. Gary Okray, who is in charge of the auto theft division of TPD. He said the university mirrors the city in the amount of four-wheel drive vehicles being stolen.
He said four-wheel drives are commonly stolen, taken to Mexico and then used to transport drugs into the United States through back-country boarder crossings.
"We believe they're using the trucks as load vehicles for dope," Okray said. "When border entrances are closed or they are transporting drugs, they have to drive in the desert to cross the border."
Celi said two of the vehicles stolen this year from campus were recovered in Douglas. He said the fact that the cars were found so close to the Mexican border is another clue that most cars stolen in Tucson find their way into Mexico for resale or for use in transporting drugs.
"Obviously I attribute these cars as trying to get across the border and just not quite making it," Celi said. He said joyriding has become less popular and thieves are using their skills to earn money from stolen vehicles in Mexico.
On March 22, UA police arrested two boys from Nogales for attempting to steal a pickup truck from the Student Recreation Center parking lot.
The boys were caught by the owner of the vehicle, who was able to detain them until police arrived. They told police they were being paid by a Mexican law officer from Nogales to steal a truck. They said the officer was going to pay them $600 and "half an eight ball of cocaine" if they could get the truck to Nogales, Mexico.
Although Okray was hesitant to comment, he has heard reports of Mexican Federales driving stolen Jeep Cherokees.
"I will say there have been reports that that's occurring," he said. "I personally haven't been down there or witnessed anything but there have been reports of the Mexican officers driving Jeep Grand Cherokees."
As thefts increase, the questions about which protection devices are the most effective becomes more important. Celi said the first step in protecting a vehicle from theft is identifying if it is high risk. From there, he said, measures can be taken in accordance with that risk.
For high risk vehicles, like four-wheel drives, Celi recommends the Club, a device that locks to the steering wheel preventing driving capabilities, and a battery disconnect device that detaches the battery if a hidden button in the vehicle is not pressed.
"I'm not a big proponent of the car audio alarms," Celi said. "I really don't have much faith in their ability to deter a theft. In a university community, all alarms do is piss everybody off."
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