Orange County leaders on Tuesday approved new funding for a countywide auto theft task force aimed at professional thieves through a small increase in vehicle registration fees

The Orange County Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to increase the yearly registered passenger vehicle registration fee by $1 and the commercial vehicle registration fee by $2 in order to pay for the Orange County Auto Theft Task Force.

The funding request came as local auto thefts have increased by 25 percent, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Prosecutors estimate that, on average, thieves are stealing cars at a rate of “nearly one an hour every day,” according to a statement from the DA’s office.

Funding for the task force has not been increased since it was instituted in 1993. With the third largest number of registered vehicle in the state – behind Los Angeles and San Diego – Orange County is a “target rich environment for professional auto thieves,” according to the DA’s office.

“Today’s vote provides law enforcement with the resources necessary to combat this disturbing trend and protect consumers and business owners from being further victimized,” District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.

DA officials said that without the funding increase the task force would have been in danger of disbanding.

During the task force’s 27-year history it has arrested more than 1,700 people and recovered more than 6,900 stolen vehicles, officials said.

“Professional auto thieves and criminal organizations continue to exist by utilizing identity theft to prey on unsuspecting victims to sustain their presence in Orange County for the purpose of conducting illegal activity,” said Gil Campa, the commander of the task force, in a statement.

Along with investigating and arresting auto thieves – including high-level theft rings – the task force also provides training to local law enforcement agencies and auto dealerships and finance companies.

The DA’s office reported a 30 percent increase in criminal filings for auto theft over the past year. The office also noted that there has been a 300 percent increase in auto loan fraud between 2009 and 2018.

The DA’s office is not allowed to directly pay for police personnel from outside agencies, requiring them to set up the funding structure through the county and the vehicle registration fees, DA spokeswoman Kimberly Edds said. Even with the increase, the DA’s office noted that the fees in Orange County are comparable to those charged in neighboring Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

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