Car taken as owner watched

By Jordan Bond

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The stolen Subaru when Alexandra Wood bought it. It now has a turbo bonnet because the alleged thief put one on.
The stolen Subaru when Alexandra Wood bought it. It now has a turbo bonnet because the alleged thief put one on.

"I looked out my window and saw this guy I'd never seen before in my car, back out of the driveway and take off."

Alexandra Wood.
Alexandra Wood.

It was the week before Christmas and Alexandra Wood's car was gone - one of 1005 people who reported their vehicle stolen in Northland in 2015. Just 15 per cent those thefts were resolved - 847 cars went missing without police finding an offender.

But Ms Wood was one of the lucky ones. The 23-year-old student's Subaru Impreza was found almost undamaged two days later, 20km away from her home in Kerikeri. The offender had used the car as a getaway vehicle during an armed robbery, and the car was found scattered with the remains of Class A drugs. Although the offender was caught, Ms Wood said the whole crime was carefully planned.

"A couple days before [the theft] I'd spoken to my parents after I noticed a car driving down our street really slowly late at night," she said.

"This dude must have been watching our place for a few days, because he knew exactly where my mum, my dog and I were, and he knew how to get in undetected. He walked right into my family home and grabbed my keys," Ms Wood said.

Ms Wood is one of an increasing number of car theft victims. The number of stolen vehicles in Northland has increased 62 per cent since 2012 while police resolution rates have dropped from 18.2 per cent to 15.2 per cent in the same period - meaning an offender is caught in less than one in six cases. More thefts were likely to be unreported.

Labour's police spokesperson Stuart Nash said the resolution rate showed police were underfunded and did not have the resources to investigate thefts and burglaries.

"The police themselves, certainly the frontline officers, do a fantastic job. But that thin blue line is really, really stretched.

"We just can't continue like this - when burglaries and car thefts aren't getting solved and the public is losing confidence in the police's ability to do the basics."

Nationwide, the number of recorded vehicle thefts rose to 20,646 last year, a 12 per cent increase on 2014, and a 20 per cent increase since 2012.

"Burglars know they've got a 90 per cent chance of getting away with it. I don't think they rationalise it like that, but that's the reality - they've got a 10 per cent chance of getting caught," Mr Nash said.

The national resolution rate was 11.6 per cent. Thieves got away with taking more than 50 cars a day.

In a written response to the Northern Advocate, police acting assistant commissioner Dave Trappitt said low resolution rates for crimes such as burglary and vehicle theft was because cases were "difficult to resolve" and were often reported hours after the crime occurred. He said an increase in vehicle ownership may also be a factor behind increase in thefts. He said police "will continue to prioritise this as appropriate".

Car theft prevention tips:

* Ensure you keep your car locked, even when parked at home and in the garage.

* Consider fitting immobilisers or a tracking device to your vehicle.

* If you own a trailer or scooter, consider fitting wheel locks and coupling locks.

* Don't leave valuables or items attractive to thieves (eg phones, laptops, bags) in plain sight inside the vehicle. Either take them with you or lock them in the boot or out of sight.

* Don't leave spare car keys in obvious places in the house.

* If you have any information about people stealing or dealing in stolen cars please contact police. Information can also be provided anonymously through Crimestoppers 0800 555 111.

- Northern Advocate

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