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'Watch your car' program can keep thieves away from your vehicle

Posted: 7:57 PM, Sep 19, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-20 12:28:44Z

It's a program that has been around for decades, but with trends showing an increase in the number of car thefts and break-ins throughout Arizona, the state's Auto Theft Authority is hoping to bring it back to the forefront.

Fred Zumbo, the executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority said the program had been very popular when it first started in the 90's.

Here is how it works. If you are enrolled in the "watch your car" program, law enforcement can stop your car if it is seen out on the streets between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. without any other reason. It would be a simple stop to verify the person behind the wheel was actually you or someone you know. 

So far there are 35,000 people enrolled in the program. Many cities and counties across the state are actively participating in the program, but upon checking we learned that the city of Phoenix, Chandler, and Gilbert indicated they were not participating in the program, even though some of their websites indicated they were.

Zumbo said he found that disheartening.

"With the new generation of officers hitting the streets they are not really aware of what the "watch your car" program was because it developed in the '90's," said Zumbo.

He added that was a time when the state was number one in the nation for auto thefts. Since then great strides have been made, and Arizona is now around number 15 on the list. Zumbo said he hoped to improve that number.

"We don't want to end up where we were 20 years ago. Number one in the country in auto theft," said Zumbo.

Maricopa County is on top of the list for stolen cars in Arizona, not surprising as it is the largest county.

"These cars that are being stolen here are traveling all across the state. A lot of our vehicles, especially the pick up trucks and SUV's stolen from the Phoenix metro area are being used for drug and human smuggling down at the border," said Zumbo.

With sophisticated technology, Zumbo said cars were becoming more difficult to steal. Most of the thefts they saw involved car owners who did not lock their cars, and left the keys inside the vehicles.

"You can have the best anti-theft device on your vehicle, but it's not locked and the keys are in it, it's not going to do you any good," said Zumbo.

Amanda O'Halloran, an executive assistant at the Arizona Auto Theft Authority showed us the decals she had on her prized jeep.

"It is highly reflective at night. Officers can see it specifically because it's between 1 and 5 a.m. in the morning," said O'Halloran.

She pointed out that seeing those decals alone might be a deterrent for a thief.

"We want our thieves to know about this. We want the thief to know the person who is there is somebody who is going to report this right away, and somebody who's going to notice it right away. This is a tool that is already out there in the state for you to use. It's already in place," said O'Halloran.

The Arizona auto theft authority is a partner of the insurance industry. Every dollar from the premiums we pay goes toward the agency, which then gives out grants to local and state law enforcement agencies to put auto theft prevention programs in place.

Enrolling in the program is free. You can sign up at www.AzWatchYourCar.com. 

The agency's mission is to prevent auto theft through a statewide cooperative effort with law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

They call this decal program part of a "layered approach" to protecting your car.

Other things they recommend you do include:

-Locking your car at all times- half of all stolen cars are left unlocked.
-Take your keys and fobs inside- don't hide a spare set of keys in your car.  Nearly 20 percent of vehicles stolen have keys in them. Pros know where to look.
-Park in well-lit areas. Car thefts usually occur at night.
-Don't leave your car running and unattended
-Don't leave valuables in your car, or at least try to hide them

Layer two includes:

-Audible alarms
-Steering wheel/pedal locks
-Vin window etching
-"Watch your car" decals

Layer three includes:

Vehicle immobilizers- prevent thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring your vehicle.
-Smart keys
-Fuse cut-offs and kill switches
-Starter, ignition and fuel disablers

Layer four includes:

-Tracking systems