– Gangland detectives have been called into the fight against spiralling levels of car theft in Victoria.
The state’s Organised Motor Vehicle Theft Squad will be merged with the Santiago Taskforce in a significant escalation of the battle against syndicates stealing vehicles.
Groups under Santiago scrutiny – among them some violent Middle Eastern families – are suspected of being a key factor in the crime boom.
Santiago was formed in 2008 after dozens of non-fatal shootings, mostly in the northern suburbs.
Its members found widespread evidence criminals under investigation for shootings, drug trafficking and extortion were also heavily involved in car thefts.
Assistant Commissioner Steve Fontana said it was clear some of those involved in car theft outfits carried guns.
“We also know a lot of these incidents (shootings) have happened in panel shops,” Mr Fontana said. “The concern is that some of these people are armed.”
Vehicle thefts in Victoria rose by 8.2% on the latest available 12-month comparison, meaning a $12 million annual jump in the value of cars stolen to $133 million. This followed years of decreases as improved security systems made the thieves’ task harder.
Melbourne’s north-west policing zone, where many of the crime gangs and families are based, has been identified as the biggest problem area.
More than half the cars that go missing in Victoria are stolen there.
Mr Fontana said there was an element of criminals stealing cars to order.
In one case earlier this year, one of the state’s most notorious criminals was found by members involved in a stolen car investigation.
Mr Fontana said he wanted police across the state to help gather intelligence on vehicle theft.
Police will today also announce a separate anti-car theft taskforce in the north-west policing region, which covers the CBD and municipalities including Hume, Brimbank, Moreland, Whittlesea and Maribyrnong.
Taskforce Rio is set to be launched after the offences in that area rose from 6645 to 7741.
Mr Fontana said there were significant issues with cars being stolen by burglars who used them to commit crimes and with offences by young joy-riders.
Stolen cars were frequently used in petrol station drive-offs.
Commander Jeff Forti of the north-west region said police were committed to driving down the car theft figure in the area.
Of 6645 stolen in the 12-month count, 29% were never recovered.
Commander Forti said the older model Toyota Camry was a big target of local car thieves, including young joy riders. In November, three young people aged 12 to 16 died when the stolen Camry in which they were travelling slammed into a wall – Mark Buttler