Law enforcement fights back against rising KC car thefts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Faced with a 15 percent spike in reported vehicle thefts last year, KCPD and the Missouri Highway Patrol have taken on a new tactic in the effort to discourage, if not stop thieves from turning cars into scrap in just hours.

On Tuesday, the Attorney General’s office used the results of a joint Highway Patrol and KCPD investigation to issue a temporary injunction against Clark’s Auto, on East 12th Street, which it accused of knowingly trafficking in stolen cars for years and taking advantage of a legal loophole introduced into Missouri law in 2012 to sell many of them as scrap.

Highway Patrol investigator Cpl. Nate Bradley said the joint investigation linked some 200 stolen cars to Clarks going back to 2011.

“If I keep going there and I keep finding stolen cars, I'm going to keep going back and when I did, I kept finding more and more stolen cars,” Bradley explained.

Clark’s, and businesses like it, have made thousands in the last two years by taking advantage of a state law passed in 2012. House Bill 1150 was designed to make it easier for rural landowners to dispose of cars abandoned on their property, but the provision that allows someone to sell an inoperable car that is more than 10 years old by providing a photo ID and filling out a form is now regularly abused.

Thieves can steal old cars and sell them to scrappers, or to middle-men, and quickly make a few hundred dollars with little paper trail.

In 2013, Kansas City saw a 15 percent increase in reported car thefts, a jump councilman John Sharp, the chairman of the city’s public safety committee, attributed to the law. More than 4,200 vehicles were reported stolen in Kansas City in 2013, according to KCPD statistics.

St. Louis also saw a similar jump, particularly with older vehicles, according to the Insurance Journal, which said the thefts would raise car insurance prices for everyone. 

Bradley said Missouri’s law is drawing car thieves and their take to Missouri as well.

“We're talking about cars from all other states that border Missouri,” he said. “They're all being brought to Missouri salvage yards and salvage businesses to be shredded.”

By targeting businesses like Clark’s, the Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies hope to squeeze the profits of would-be car thieves, and force them into other lines of work.

“The idea behind this case was, instead of holding an individual responsible, let's hold an industry responsible,” Bradley said.

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