Joy-riding kids still account for roughly 40 percent of the cars stolen, police said.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Vehicle theft here has dropped a whopping 23 percent.
The Columbus-based Ohio Insurance Institute, which keeps track of such statistics, reports that 675 vehicles were stolen in 2000, compared with 880 in 1999. The ratio of thefts to vehicles was one in 102 in 2000.
Only Elyria, down 39 percent, and Springfield, down 26 percent, did better than Youngstown. Warren's rate increased 4.5 percent.
Statewide, vehicle theft remained virtually unchanged, with 39,214 vehicles stolen in 2000, compared with 39,182 the year before.
Aggressive cops: Police Chief Richard Lewis credits young and aggressive officers for finding stolen cars before they're abandoned, which means arrest and prosecution of the driver.
"We have a very young police department. Since the end of 1999, we've probably hired 50 new officers, most in their mid-20s," Lewis said. "They really go out and do the job."
Lewis said each shift at roll call gets a list of the cars stolen and recovered since they last worked. As police patrol the neighborhoods, they're always on the lookout for the cars they know have been stolen, he said.
The more arrests and the more convictions, the better, said Patrolman Terry Alexander of the auto theft division. It's real simple -- car thefts drop while car thieves are locked up, he said.
Because of anti-theft devices, such as computer chips in keys, most thieves have to settle for older-model cars that will start once the steering column is "peeled," which means the column has been dislodged with a screwdriver. Then the car can be started without a key.
GM models popular: Alexander said General Motors cars made from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s are favorites with car thieves in this area and account for roughly 90 percent of all cars taken. In Detroit, it's Ford.
Joy-riding teen-agers and young adults still account for up to 40 percent of stolen cars, Alexander said. Sometimes, they steal a car to take the radio and speakers.
It's not unusual for city teen-agers to visit friends across town or in Austintown, for example, and when they need a ride home, steal a car for transportation, Alexander said.
Police will find the car abandoned within a block or two of the thief's home.
Burned up: Most of the 104 vehicle arsons last year were first reported as stolen, said Alvin Ware, commander of the Youngstown Fire Department's arson bureau.
He said financial reasons -- high lease or car payments -- account for half the losses. People who can no longer afford their cars burn them, then report them stolen.