Last updated: July 01. 2014 12:04PM - 732 Views
By Travis McMullen Contributing Columnist

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June 25 — Two vehicle license plates were reported stolen in the 3500 block of Snyder Avenue.

The local police reports have been filled with standard stuff — suspended license, DUI, drug possession, and lots of petty theft. But there is a recent emerging pattern of crimes that is not quite so standard: thieves have been targeting our license plates.

At first, it might seem like some hoodlums having a little fun amassing a small collection of other people’s plates for the sport of it. The classic hood ornament is no longer a widespread feature of our automobiles so maybe the next best trophy to take from someone’s car is the license plate. Most of the time you either steal something for the sake of stealing it, or to make some money off of it, and I didn’t think there was a market for other people’s plates.

June 27 — A license plate was reported stolen from a camping trailer in the 800 block of Mitchell Road.

Clearly, there is a shadowy cabal of people who are using our plates for nefarious purposes, like making birdhouses and dustpans. At first it was easy because that box of old plates they got from that auction was just begging to get used. But the kitsch market exceeded their output and soon they realized they would need new raw plate material to meet that demand. They just need a few more plates, no questions asked and no questions answered.

All right, so a stolen plate is no laughing matter. There is a lot of hassle involved in getting a new plate, and securing the legal transportation to initiate the process and eventually get your new plates.

But there was another report that seems to tell a little bit more of the story:

June 27 — A victim in the 200 block of West Second Street reported their license plates were being used illegally in California.

On the same day that one plate was just beginning its journey into the criminal underworld, another was already far enough in the process that if it were a living thing it would be an accessory to the crime. They grow up so fast.

It could have to do with good old fashioned grand theft auto — car theft is big business, especially in California. Sure, auto theft is on a downward trend on a national level but California must not have got the memo. Of the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s top 10 destinations for car theft, nine of them can be found in California.

Criminals steal vehicles, and corrupt chop shops paint them, scrape VINs of off the pieces, switch pieces around, and trade VINs and license plates around just enough to make sure the car doesn’t immediately match the description of the stolen vehicle — they want to make it pass long enough to ship it to people in Europe and Asia who are hungry for American cars at bargain prices. For every plate stolen in Missouri, there is a vehicle being stolen somewhere else for eventual matching.

And some of the lucky cars will end up being driven into Mexico and used to smuggle guns and/or drugs and/or cash across the border — there are fields in Mexico full of once innocent American automobiles now complete with blood, bullet holes and hollow smuggling chambers. Their history is so blurry and intertwined with other automobiles it is likely they will never make it home.

And that just leaves the question of what we should do about all this plate theft? There just aren’t a lot of security features preventing that sort of thing. It’s a quick crime that doesn’t require a lot of mess, so unless we literally catch someone in the act it is going to be hard to put anyone away for it. Maybe future vehicles will place our plates in some sort of clear compartment to deter theft.

Park in the garage whenever possible, replace your plate screws with non-traditional heads, or at least keep them as tight as possible, and keep your car alarms armed.

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