Mayor Johnston Announces New Auto Theft Prevention Plan for Denver

Published on January 25, 2024

Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas stands with his hands folded next to Denver Mayor Mike Johnston. Johnston is speaking at a podium next to an American flag and Colorado flag.

Today, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston and Denver Police Department (DPD) Chief Ron Thomas announced a new comprehensive strategy for fighting auto thefts in Denver. This strategy will expand existing efforts by DPD and ensure that Denver’s auto theft response remains coordinated and effective.

The plan consists of five key strategies:

  1. Moving the Denver Auto Theft Team (DATT) within DPD from pilot to permanent, dedicating a team of detectives to solely focus on auto theft.
  2. Building a citywide network of automated license plate recognition (ALPR) devices that will allow DPD to easily locate vehicles involved in crimes.
  3. Hosting community events to retrofit frequently stolen vehicle models with anti-theft software. 
  4. Continue to encourage Denverites to take part in DPD’s successful DenverTrack program, which works with vehicles’ GPS systems to track stolen vehicles in real time.
  5. Invest in recruiting diverse police recruit classes to restore DPD to full authorized strength and increase patrol capacity to respond to crime.

“Around 30 cars a day are stolen in our city. This is a huge impact on people’s lives, especially families with only one vehicle,” said Mayor Mike Johnston. “We are taking crime seriously and are proud to announce a comprehensive approach to auto thefts throughout Denver.” 

DATT, which will now be an official, full-time team within DPD, was launched in late March of 2023 as a pilot. This team consists of an investigative sergeant and detectives solely focused on tracking down and arresting auto thieves. Throughout 2023, DATT made 201 auto theft arrests and 45 additional felony arrests for other crimes, while removing more than 30 illegal guns from the streets. Additionally, they played an active role in the investigations and arrests of the prolific auto thieves targeting Denver International Airport.  

“Auto thefts have significant negative impacts on victims, and stolen cars are often used in the commission of more crimes, which is why the city and Denver Police are committed to addressing the issue through a multi-faceted, proactive approach to preventing auto thefts, quickly recovering stolen vehicles and hold car thieves accountable,” said Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas.

Example of a an A-L-P-R, or Automated License Plate Reader. The camera is attached to a pole that's topped with a solar panel to power the device.

The other tool announced in combating auto thefts and other crimes is a new ALPR network, which will be installed at approximately 70 intersections throughout the city. The system, which only captures an image of the back of the vehicle and does not film the driver or others in the vehicle, will be utilized to locate vehicles involved in hit-and-run crashes and vehicles associated with a crime – such as homicides, Amber/Silver Alerts, and vehicles reported stolen.

The new system takes the images of the back of the vehicle, license plate, make, model, and color, and inputs those details into a secure database that can only be accessed by Denver Police. DPD investigators must provide their reason to search the database for the license plate. The data is encrypted, and after 30 days, data not tied to a specific investigation is automatically deleted.  

Residents will be able to access DPD’s transparency portal to view the policy associated with the ALPR system, obtain statistics on the number of vehicles detected during the 30-day period, number of flagged/wanted vehicles detected, and more. This transparency portal will be available at Denvergov.org/police in the coming weeks. No personally identifiable information is obtained or stored by the ALPR network, nor is the information it gathers shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or third parties.

A map outlining Denver with red dots showing locations of Automated License Plate Readers.

The new ALPRs will be installed across each of Denver’s six police districts. The approximately 70 locations of where they will be installed within the districts was determined by identifying areas where gun violence, auto thefts and hit-and-run crashes collectively occur. The locations where the ALPRs will be installed will be available at Denvergov.org/police. The solar-powered devices can be relocated if crime data indicates they can be more useful at a different location.

During the one-year pilot, DPD will evaluate the system to ensure the information collected is valuable in solving and deterring crime in Denver. Success in other jurisdictions include a 40% decrease in auto thefts, dismantling of an auto theft crime ring, and the location of an active shooter.  

Denver currently utilizes ALPR systems at the Federal Boulevard and 6th Avenue intersection and the Colfax Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard intersection, and the city sees the value in having a database of license plates to see if a vehicle wanted in a crime passed through that area and if so, when it did. To date, this system has captured information on 4,164 stolen vehicles and 29,194 wanted vehicles and vehicles associated with a wanted party. These locations will remain a part of the ALPR network.  

DATT and the ALPR network pilot are components of DPD’s ongoing efforts to reduce auto thefts and hold car thieves accountable. Ongoing efforts include the DenverTrack program and auto theft prevention initiatives such as steering wheel lock giveaways, all of which DPD believes contributed to the 19% decrease in auto thefts in Denver in 2023. 

Click here to see the PowerPoint presentation shared at today’s press conference.