Cars are being stolen at an alarming rate across Fresno. Using an altered key, I watched as an undercover officer got in and drove away in just 14.3 seconds. But there is something the Fresno Police Department says you can do to lower your risk significantly.
He's stolen so many cars he can't count. And, he doesn't consider himself a criminal, just one who steals for the thrill of it.
"Some people are addicted to it, some people are doing it to survive, you just never know."
Each day an average of 17 cars per day are stolen in Fresno. Not only are thieves armed with the tools they need to steal cars but they are armed with something else: intel. The best thieves know when and where Fresno Police patrol the streets looking for criminals, just like him.
"I mean that's a part of my lifestyle so to pay attention to the scanner is to know what's going on. That's just the key that people use."
A scanner was just one of many items Fresno Police found when they arrested Timothy Vasser last week. Action News cameras caught Vasser jumping out of a two story window trying to run from police and his warrant for auto theft. He was caught, but many get away only to steal again and again.
Fresno Police say some thieves have become so comfortable with stealing cars that just a few weeks ago a man set to appear in court on an auto theft charge actually stole a car to get to court, let his friends take it from there, and then took another car from downtown Fresno to get home.
Skyrocketing auto theft stats are frustrating, so much so the Fresno Police Department formed a special unit to go after those career criminals who steal dozens of cars a month. The team is appropriately named the "Career Criminal Auto Theft Team."
Police Chief Jerry Dyer says he has heard from some victims who are targeted over and over. "It's not uncommon for a person to have their car stolen more than once. It could be by the same suspect and it could be during the same week. We have had these cases occur in Fresno."
So what are drivers to do? Actually the solution could be one from the 1980's.
Chief Jerry Dyer said. "It would be my goal as a chief to see one of these on every car in Fresno. That doesn't eliminate cars from being stolen, but it will cause auto theft suspects to see this and move onto an easier target."
The Pruneda family uses a steering wheel lock on their late model Honda. They know it doesn't offer complete protection, but say, so far it has worked.
Mayra Pruneda said, "We put it on every night. We lock all the doors and just on the safe side, we still have the porch light on in the back. So better safe than sorry."
And this longtime thief says steering wheel locks usually steer him in another direction, but if the temptation is too great, the car is his.
"Sontaya asked: If you really want it, you are going to get it.
He replied: You're going to get it, there's nothing preventing you from getting a car with a hundred alarms on it. If you want the car, you'll either drive it away or tow it away."
Towing cars away is becoming a more popular option. Some thieves are even buying tow trucks to haul off cars that are stolen.
The serial thief I talked to said if you can't park your car in a locked garage, invest in a kill switch, a special on off button that only you know about. Getting one installed costs around $100 to $200.