Houston ranks high in number of stolen vehicles; Task force fighting theft says they’re losing money

State legislator look to secure more money for task force from insurance charge on Texas drivers

For Mallory Olson, a seemingly normal night of sleep was disrupted by a knock on her front door.

”To be woken up at four in the morning with two officers was shocking,” said Olson.

Olson, a Sugar Land resident, went to bed only a few hours earlier and says her family vehicle was where it usually was parked.

“In the garage. And we woke up with the car not in the garage,” she said.

Her vehicle was in fact stolen from her garage. An act that doesn’t get any more personal.

“You definitely feel violated,” said Olson, while standing a few yards away from where her vehicle was taken.

She is just one of several Houston area car owners who have been victimized.

“My car was stolen in 2017,” said Mayes Middleton.

In his case, a criminal walked into his home while his pregnant wife was sleeping, snatched her car keys, and then the family ride.

“It’s terrifying,” said Mayes when speaking of the incident that took place on Galveston Island.

KPRC 2 Investigates went for a drive with Sergeant Tracy Hicks with the Houston Police Department’s Auto Thefts Crime Task Force.

For years, he said he has seen criminals of all ages stealing Houstonian’s vehicles.

“We’ve caught 15-year-olds and we’ve caught 55-year-olds,” said Hicks.

Law enforcement agencies have declared that the Houston area has been consistently one of the worst in the nation for vehicle thefts around areas like the Gulf Freeway, the Edgebrook area, and Richmond Avenue inside the loop.

HPD records show the city is on pace to surpass last year’s total of 16,085.

“Crooks, a lot of times, are looking for the quick and easy and fast,” said Hicks.

Investigators say solving these crimes isn’t always quick and easy. However, a simple fix to funding could help.

Galveston County Lieutenant Tommy Hansen said in 1991, one whole dollar from every Texan’s insurance policy was earmarked by the legislature for the Motor Vehicles Crime Prevention Authority to fund the statewide task force.

“We lost dedicated fund status, so about 25 cents on that dollar started going elsewhere in state government,” said Hansen.

Then, just over a decade ago, Austin voted to increase it to $2, followed by another hike in 2019, according to Hansen, who is quick to point out, ”We never got the full dollar.”

So, where do things stand now?

Investigators say more money would be put to good use given the number of cars or trucks stolen not only in our area but the rest of the state.

“Somewhere in the area of around $20, $21, or $21.5 million, instead we are getting around $14 million,” said Hansen.

As for a solution? This is where Hansen points to the legislature.

“Funding, it’s all about funding,” he said.

This is where car theft victim Middleton has a plan.

As it turns out, Middleton is the State Senator-elect representing parts of Galveston, Brazoria, and Harris Counties.

“I want to add about six million more to get us to $22 million in funding,” said Middleton.

What would the extra funding mean in terms of a solution for this?

“It’s going to be more task force and more investigators is what it means,” said Middleton.

The task force consists of over 235 investigators, but millions more could increase that number while also providing more resources.

Olson is for maximizing the charge applied to every automobile policy in Texas.

“I would hope that they are putting as much as they can towards preventing this kind of thing because it’s a lot of time, energy money that gets wasted when you lose a car,” said Olson.

About the Author:

Journalistic bulldog focused on accountability and how government is spending your dollars. Husband to Wonder Woman, father to a pitcher and two Cavapoos. Prefers queso over salsa.