There are over 12,000 motor vehicle thefts every year in Houston for an average of 33 a day.
There are another 33,500 vehicles reported broken into every year for an average of 92 a day, while 45 of those break-ins result in reports of burglaries of motor vehicles (BMVs) which involve damage and/or theft of property.
“And the big one is guns. It is the huge hit. In 2019, we had 2,800 guns stolen out of vehicles. That means there are 2,800 guns in the hands of criminals which is 222 to 274 guns a month,” said Sgt. Tracy Hicks of the Houston Police Department (HPD) Auto Theft Division.
Those numbers were just part of a riveting presentation Hicks provided at the Sept. 15 meeting of the Kingwood PIP (Positive Interaction Program). In addition, the group learned of thieves called “juggers” and those called “sliders” and how they operate. Most importantly, Hicks discussed how best to minimize the risk of becoming victims based on his years of experience.
The Auto Theft Division is responsible for investigating thefts of motor vehicles and vehicle parts as well as investigating BMVs. The Crime Prevention Squad is involved in promoting crime-reduction initiatives, such as VIN number etching on auto windows and public relations projects. Hicks is the public outreach officer for the squad. He refers to these crimes as an auto theft industry that thrives in Houston. It is an industry largely made possible by the pubic itself due to negligence and lack of attention.
“Juggers are people following people from a bank or high-end stores,” Hicks said. They lay in wait at the banks or high-end stores and then follow a car from that location to its next stop. They know the vehicle contains value, so they wait for the driver to leave and they follow it to the driver’s next stop. Then they make their move knowing through simple observation where to find the item: in the trunk, front seat or the back seat.
Hicks speculated the slang description “jugger” evolved over decades, even centuries, referring to people going into and out of banks, which were sometimes referred to jugs and thus becoming lucrative targets as they left the bank.
“Sliders are targeting women, mostly at gas stations. They slide into the passenger side of the car while the driver is pumping gas on the other side of the car,” Hicks said. He described how they pull up beside the car or quietly approach it on foot, open the unlocked passenger door, slide across and the seat and grab a purse left in the car. “And then they are gone and a lot of times the victim does not know it happened,” he said.
Regarding vehicle thefts, Hicks speculated there would be an increase this year even with the change in seasonal patterns due to the disruption of COVID-19.
“So far, we are right on track to go up about 13% in 2020,” he said. Trucks are by far the most popular vehicles to steal in Houston, either to resell or break down to sell as parts in the aftermarket. Seven of the Top 10 most popular vehicles stolen are trucks.
“Last month, the top vehicle was the Chevy Silverado, which was being stolen at a much higher rate than the next 10 top stolen vehicles,” Hicks said. The thieves have figured out how to work around the current electronic security system of GM products that require the key fob to be in the car in order to start it.
“I tell people to go to the aftermarket parts suppliers if they want to keep their trucks,” he said. He explained there are aftermarket security systems available that reduce or eliminate that specific security threat. They are easily found using an internet search.
“The only thing we can do to reduce this is to educate people on how not to become the victim. These crimes are going to happen. The perpetrators are professionals. You must just try to make it happen to somebody else,” he said.
Hicks emphasized how not to become the victim, above all else, means lock the doors, hide packages out of sight and specifically about guns, to make them completely secure. He strongly recommended that trucks and cars in which guns are carried should have professionally manufactured and secured on-board gun safes. There are a number of sources and can be found online. He noted one side benefit is that other important valuables can be carried in them in when not used for guns.
The Kingwood PIP meets the third Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Kingwood Church of Christ, 2901 Woodland Hills Drive. The meetings will be held as Zoom teleconferences until HPD COVID-19 directives allow otherwise. It is open to the public and all residents are welcome. Contact the Kingwood HPD to obtain instructions for joining the meeting.