Public Safety

Undercover Auto Theft Operation Busts 60

A thief breaks into a car. Image Credit: PhotoSpin
A thief breaks into a car.

Sixty defendants have been indicted as a result of ‘Operation Kill Switch,’ an 8-month vehicle theft crackdown, the District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday. The undercover operation was conducted by the San Diego County Regional Auto Theft Task Force, working with Homeland Security Investigations and Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

“Dozens of car thieves have been shut down as a result of this operation, thanks to the excellent work done by RATT and its law enforcement partners,” said District Attorney Summer Stephan. “We’ve seen vehicle thefts start to go back up in recent years, so staying vigilant and supporting RATT’s mission is an important component of keeping San Diego one of the safest urban counties in the nation.”

Beginning in February and ending in September, undercover officers purchased stolen vehicles, narcotics, body armor and firearms from more than 90 individuals.  A San Diego County Grand Jury was presented with evidence of the purchases and returned indictments on 60 people. The defendants, some of whom worked as organized crime rings, face various felony charges vehicle theft, residential burglary, possession of stolen property and illegal weapons possession.

During Operation Kill Switch, more than 70 vehicles were recovered by law enforcement, with a total estimated value of $1.1 million. Several luxury cars that had been stolen were purchased by undercover detectives, among them were vehicles manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Cadillac, and a Tesla. Several U-Haul trucks were also recovered. Vehicles recovered had been stolen from across San Diego County, as well as Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside Counties.

“In yet another collaborative effort, investigators from RATT, NCIS and HSI have made a significant impact in the reduction of auto theft throughout San Diego County.  I am proud of the work that was done by our investigators and know these types of operations go a long way in protecting our communities.” said RATT Commander Don Goodbrand.

Law enforcement made arrests Nov. 15 during an early-morning sweep across San Diego County. Suspects in this investigation face varied sentences depending on their criminal background including probation to 10 years in prison.

According to California Highway Patrol statistics, last year 12,207 vehicles were stolen in San Diego County, a 13 percent increase from the year before.  From January to September 2017, 7,913 vehicles were reported stolen.  Statistics show an increase in vehicle theft for two years in a row, after a drop in 2013 and 2014.

Reported vehicle thefts by year for San Diego County:

  • 2013: 12,200 (down 7.5 percent from 13,188)
  • 2014: 10,383 (down 14.9 percent from 12,200)
  • 2015: 10,668 (up 2.74 percent from 10,383)
  • 2016: 12,207 (up 12.81 percent from 10,668)