In a rare opportunity, Action News Reporter Sontaya Rose spoke to a serial auto thief
As of Monday night 2,143 cars have been stolen just in the past five months in the city. That works out to about 17 per day.
The bulk of these thefts are carried out by highly organized criminal groups who go on and commit even more crimes once they've got your car.
He is a professional who has mastered the art of stealing cars. From parking lots to driveways, no car is safe. He spoke to Action News under the condition we not reveal his identity.
"Where ever anybody's not looking is the best place to take a car at anytime of day or night."
At first, stealing cars was all about the high.
"It's an unexplainable feeling, it's a rush in itself."
But soon this thief had to feed another high: a growing drug habit, fed only by stealing cars.
"It's easier to go chop a car into a million pieces and sell a thousand parts then go to work for $8.95 an hour for whoever."
A stolen car can get you anywhere from a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Really good thieves can steal and break apart several cars in one day. And while some individual car thieves make good money, the Fresno gangs really rake in the big bucks.
"Gangs use them for drive-bys. They also use them to rob stores, smash and grab and they also use them to do whatever."
Just as fast as the cars are stolen, Fresno Police Department's newly created Career Criminal Auto Theft Team is working to take down the operations.
Officers showed up at this West Central Fresno apartment complex last week. Action News cameras were rolling when the suspect officers were after jumped out of a second story window and tried to make a getaway.
Timothy Vassar was caught and arrested. He agreed to talk with us before he was hauled off to jail. "I heard open the door and I'm like what the hell. I jumped I was scared, I freaked out. My legs just kept running."
Vassar denies being part of any auto theft ring.
"Vassar: No. Auto theft? No, I don't drive.
Sontaya: Yeah, but do you organize the stealing and parting out of car.
Vassar: No, absolutely not, that ain't my, no. Never will you ever see me driving."
Fresno Police detectives aren't buying his story. When officers scanned through Vassar's cell phone they found text messages that police say were all about his next stolen car deal.
Officers are zeroing in on the thieves who are making off with the most cars. This undercover officer shows us how fast cars are stolen. Using an altered key, it took him just 14.3 seconds to get in and drive away. Thieves have it down to a science, including the best time to steal a car. It's between 3 to 7 a.m. Hot hands are lurking everywhere including one place that's always full of families.
"There's a lot of women that go to daycare and they are in a hurry to go take their kids to daycare. They leave their car running, everything in it- that right there is a blindsider for most."
Late model Hondas are the most popular cars, they bring in the most money in the parts black market. As far as protecting your car, this longtime thief says there's only one good way to hold onto yours.
"Alarms really don't do it anymore. My suggestion would be put a kill switch in a part of the car that nobody knows where it's at. Do something that they just don't know. If you put a kill switch in the car and it can't start, and they don't know where it is, they are in trouble at that point."
Kill switches disable your car from starting. They cost between $100 to $200 hundred, that includes installation. But there is another option, coming up Tuesday on Action News at Six, find out the cheap tool Fresno Police want you to invest in to stop thieves from taking your car.