Chief Garcia Blames Auto Theft Epidemic on Staff Shortage

auto theft
Person breaking into car | Image by PBXStudio

Police Chief Eddie Garcia publicly addressed the staggering rise in motor vehicle thefts this year in Dallas, as well as the department’s slow response times and low clearance rate.

So far this year, there have been 15,388 reported incidents of auto theft, marking a 41.2% increase year over year as of October 25, according to the City’s crime overview dashboard.

“There’s not a police chief that would tell you they’re happy with those numbers,” Garcia told CBS News Texas. “I’m not happy with those numbers. I would tell you my detectives aren’t happy with those numbers. But it’s not for a lack of effort or a lack of care.”

Garcia pointed to several factors at play. To start with, he claimed car thieves are rarely ever caught, whether they commit their crimes in Dallas or elsewhere in the country.

Commenting on DPD’s 4.5% clearance rate for auto thefts last year, Garcia said he was not surprised at all by the low figure, noting that auto theft is a hard crime to solve. He added, however, that approximately 75% of victims eventually get their vehicles back, even if the perpetrator is never found.

Still, the crux of the issue appears to be a shortage of officers and a growing backlog of cases.

“Staffing has always been an issue, there’s no question about it,” Garcia said, per CBS. “The city of Dallas is the ninth largest city in the country, and I have about 12 individuals assigned to auto theft.”

A previous City analysis stated that a city the size of Dallas needs about three officers for every 1,000 residents, putting an ideal staffing level at roughly 4,000 officers. DPD currently fields fewer than 3,200 officers.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, the shortage has factored into police response times, which have skyrocketed in recent years. In cases of motor vehicle thefts in progress, DPD has been clocking an average response time of over 90 minutes.

Garcia acknowledged that his officers “may not be responding fast enough.” He said he was working on finding a way to reduce response times.

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said.

However, he was also quick to note that the situation comes down to DPD’s prioritization of addressing violent crime over property crime.

As previously covered by The Dallas Express, DPD has been implementing its Violent Crime Reduction Plan, which involves a data-driven hot-spot-based approach to fighting crime and allocating department resources.

Mayor Eric Johnson recently touted some of the positive results, pointing to declines in aggravated assaults, robberies, and sexual assaults. However, murders have continued to stack up, and Dallas continues to be recognized nationally for being unsafe.

Garcia told CBS News that perpetrators of violent crime often use stolen vehicles.

For instance, in late September, Dallas police found themselves in a deadly shootout with a suspect who had allegedly been spotted driving a stolen silver Cadillac SUV with fake paper plates. The suspect, Michael Shirley, ended up flipping the vehicle, which had a woman handcuffed in the backseat, before exchanging fire with officers. He was killed by officers in the shootout.

Shirley was a registered sex offender. He was convicted of indecency with a 6-year-old and had active arrest warrants for weapons violations and aggravated robbery charges.

Downtown Dallas remains a hotbed for crime of all kinds, but especially auto theft. A study comparing Dallas’ city center to Fort Worth’s downtown area, which is reportedly patrolled by a dedicated police unit working alongside private security guards, found that over the course of one month, 91 motor vehicle thefts occurred in the former compared to just two in the latter.

Citywide, Fort Worth police had an auto theft clearance rate of 12.7% last year, with Garland and Arlington similarly achieving double-digit figures, according to CBS News.

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