Special police squad works to find stolen cars in Detroit - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Special police squad works to find stolen cars in Detroit

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CATS recovered this Jeep days after it was stolen from Hazel Park.  (Credit: WJBK | myFOXDetroit.com) CATS recovered this Jeep days after it was stolen from Hazel Park. (Credit: WJBK | myFOXDetroit.com)
DETROIT (WJBK) -

It happens every day and comes without warning in a matter of seconds.  Somewhere in metro Detroit a crook is stealing a car.  In Detroit, there's a special group of police officers targeting the thieves and hoping to catch them before they target you.

If you drive into the city, it's a thought you've probably had at least once.  If I park my car here, will it still be here when I get back?

In 2011, more than 12,000 cars were stolen in the City of Detroit, 925 in less than a month from November 28 to Christmas Day.  That's where the CATS or the Commercial Auto Theft Squad comes in.  They work to find stolen cars in the first 24 hours.  There's no titles, just code names like Smoke, Monster, Prime Time, Butter and Capone.  And you can't leave out Shug.  He doesn't talk much, but he does find cars.

How did he find Pastor Winans' vehicle?

"A link in the chain. Everyone leaves a footprint."

We rode with Smoke, heading to the scene where his crew just found a valuable stolen work van.

"Chances are they probably got $20,000 in tools in their van. They steal it.
Take all the stuff out."

It was stolen from Detroit Receiving Hospital Wednesday morning.  CATS found it in an abandoned lot in less then three hours, but they leave it there hoping the thief will come back.

Then radio traffic.  A man approaches the car, but a squad car scares him off, so CATS calls off the sting and recovers the vehicle.  There's always something else to do.

In Michigan, the top ten cars stolen last year include the 1994 Honda Accord and Acura Integra, the 1999 Chevy pickup and the Ford Taurus.

"They want to ride to the west side and they're on the east side and they don't want to take the bus, and so they're going to take a car and they're going to do it, or they take it for parts," said Smoke.  "A lot of thefts that we have going on right now [are] on our higher end vehicles."

Like Pastor Winans' luxury Infiniti QX 56 SUV.  Smoke worked that case, too, but it was Shug who found the car based on tips.

"We did some photo lineups.  Pastor Winans was able to pick a couple people out of photo lineups to confirm what we thought in regards to our suspects, and the following day is when we started tracking them down, arrested them," Smoke said.

CATS see the operation all the way through from recovering stolen cars to arresting the suspects.  In 2011, the squad recovered more than 1,400 stolen and hijacked cars and paid tipsters more than $70,000.

Back on the scene, another stolen car, but Monster had everything under control. Two kids were arrested, caught joyriding, just 15 and 17 years old.

"I started following them, and he took off on me at a high rate of speed trying to lose me and he came up northbound here and he parked behind these cars where no one could see him."

The car was stolen on Sunday in Hazel Park and recovered on Wednesday.  The driver only 15 years old.  The officers says when he saw the car, he knew something was wrong, and the look on the teenager's face told the whole story.

"He looked at me and I could see the look on his face and I could see he was horrified and I'm pretty sure he knew I was the police."

The Commercial Auto Theft Squad says a car is stolen every 25 seconds in the United States, but there are a few things that you can do to make it easier on yourself, such as having your VIN number etched on all the glass in your car.

You also might want to try something easy like a business card.  Put it somewhere in your car where a thief would never think to look.  That way if your car ever is stolen, police know it belongs to you.

Michigan's statewide auto theft prevention program HEAT or Help Eliminate Auto Theft is another great resource with information on what you can do to prevent thieves from targeting your vehicle.  They also offer cash rewards ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 for tips leading to an arrest.  Their website is www.miheat.org or you can call 1-800-242-HEAT.  You can also contact for information on upcoming VIN number etching fairs.

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