person in a hoodie with jeans and a black belt using a crow bar to get into a black car window
(Daniel Jedzura/Shutterstock)

A daring break-in at a salvage yard illustrates a troubling trend, a company representative told Georgia state lawmakers recently.

“Some crooks hotwired four vehicles in our production yard,” said Derick Corbett, Pull-A-Part’s senior vice president of external affairs. “They brought one of the vehicles through the back door, and they loaded that vehicle up with 300 catalytic converters and 400 batteries.” 

Corbett said the battery acid from these batteries can be used as an ingredient in meth production, while catalytic converters are valued for the precious metals they contain, like platinum and rhodium. 

He was speaking to a crime subcommittee of the Georgia House Motor Vehicles Committee in September. He said the break-in was one in a  recent string of thefts that has impacted the company’s profits. He said his company, which operates in a dozen states including Georgia, fulfills an important role by reducing waste and carbon emissions and extending the life of vehicle parts and recyclable materials.

“We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of dollars as victims of crime,” Corbett said.

Corbett is among the industry representatives in Georgia who said an auto crimes prevention authority could be the answer. Eleven other states, including Texas, Louisiana, and Virginia, already have similar entities. 

“We know there is no such thing as a magic bullet that is going to prevent all vehicle crimes,” said Steve Levetan, Pull-A-Part’s executive vice president. “But we have seen demonstrated, cost-effective results from these authorities around the country.” 

The goal of an authority in Georgia would be to enable multi-jurisdictional investigation and enforcement. Analysts would track information about criminals and disseminate it to regional law enforcement agencies, allowing them to cooperate more effectively, proponents say. This would provide centralized intelligence and task forces that can operate statewide to locate stolen vehicles and arrest thieves.

But the subcommittee chairman, State Rep. Jason Ridley, a Republican from Chatsworth, expressed skepticism that an authority is the answer. 

He said car theft could be addressed by recruiting more police officers and lifting “no chase” policies that discourage officers from engaging in high-speed pursuits of suspects. He also expressed concern that creating a new authority would result in a tax increase.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, national vehicle crime rates rose for the first time in 26 years during 2020. This is especially true in Georgia, which has become the fifth-highest state for motor vehicle theft, according to the institute. 

Witnesses told Georgia lawmakers the thefts are causing some businesses and service providers in Georgia to struggle financially and are increasing their insurance premiums. 

Joe Cook, U-Haul vice president of government relations, said 109 rental vehicles were stolen from the company over the past year in Georgia, and that potential losses are in the millions. 

Harshida Davis, Enterprise Holdings group risk manager, said that between January 2020 and August 2021, the company had over 2,000 rental vehicles stolen in Georgia. Davis said these thefts have caused their rental and insurance rates to rise, which in turn has raised the rates customers pay. 

Davis said career criminals are getting more resourceful, as some can now work around anti-theft technology present in vehicles. Sometimes thieves distribute stolen vehicles to other gang members, switch vehicle identification numbers, or ship the cars overseas to avoid police tracking, she said. 

Atlanta Police Department Deputy Chief Michael O’Connor was in support of creating an auto crimes prevention authority.  

O’Connor also said there have been thousands of cars stolen in Atlanta so far this year. He said that the Atlanta Police Department is seeing a rise in gang activity around vehicle crimes, and that most individuals who steal cars are also charged with other crimes too. 

“This tells you that people in stolen cars are oftentimes up to no good in more ways than one,” O’Connor said.