The Connecticut Regional Auto Theft Task Force in the Department of Public Safety (DPS) participates in the national "Watch Your Car Program. " In this program a vehicle owner can authorize the police to stop his vehicle if it is operating between 1 a. m. and 5 a. m. , to determine whether it has been stolen. (Several Connecticut municipalities also participate in this program. ) The task force also investigates "chop shops" and insurance fraud schemes. The task force does not have dedicated funding.
At least 12 other states have established auto theft prevention authorities (ATPAs) with dedicated revenue streams. These authorities provide funding to specialized law enforcement units and prosecutors to combat auto theft and auto insurance fraud, as well as for the "Watch Your Car Program" (which goes by various names in other states). In most of these states, the authorities are funded by a surcharge on vehicle insurance policies. Several states with ATPAs have reported declines in auto thefts relative to national trends.
The Connecticut Regional Auto Theft Task Force in DPS is a statewide cooperative response intended to suppress the problem of motor vehicle theft and related crimes. The task force investigates "chop shops" and insurance fraud schemes. The task force was established in 1995 after auto theft had increased for seven consecutive years.
The task force maintains field offices in the areas of the state where auto theft is the most prevalent: Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Waterbury. Each field office is staffed with a state police sergeant, a trooper, and, in some offices, municipal police officers. The task force has its headquarters in Meriden and operates the DPS impound lot in Portland. It cooperates with law enforcement agencies in Connecticut, throughout the United States and internationally. In addition, it works with the insurance industry to combat fraud and initiates training throughout the state.
The task force participates in the national "Watch Your Car Program", which is designed to deter auto theft and assist in apprehending auto thieves. The program identifies vehicles that are not routinely operated during the early morning hours so that law enforcement officers can investigate auto theft as quickly as possible.
Motor vehicle owners who participate in the program sign a consent form and obtain the program decals. The consent form authorizes law enforcement officers to stop the vehicle if it is being driven between 1 a. m. and 5 a. m. and take reasonable steps to determine whether the vehicle is being operated with the owner's consent. If an officer observes the vehicle being driven anywhere in the United States during these hours, he may stop the vehicle and verify that it is being driven by the owner or a person designated by the owner. The officer will ask to see driver's license and vehicle registration to verify that the driver is the vehicle's owner. If the driver is not the owner, the officer will call the local or state police department to determine whether the driver is a designated driver (selected by the vehicle owner at the time of registration) or has the owner's permission to operate the vehicle. If the owner cannot be reached, the officer will allow the driver to leave. If the owner can be reached and states that the driver does not have permission to drive the vehicle, the officer then has reason to believe the vehicle is stolen and will act accordingly. The program is free to participants.