BONNYVILLE - Vehicle theft isn’t new to the Lakeland.
In 2019 alone, the Bonnyville RCMP received 190 reports of vehicles being stolen in their jurisdiction, a statistic that’s remained consistent in the area for the past five years.
“It’s one of those crimes that just continues to happen. It can be a crime of opportunity depending on preventative measures vehicle owners take or don’t take,” expressed Bonnyville RCMP S/Sgt. Sarah Parke.
Over the course of five years, the local detachment has investigated just shy of 520 vehicle thefts. According to Parke, this is on par with other detachments in the eastern Alberta district.
“It’s all pretty comparable. For 2019, Cold Lake had 146, Lac La Biche was 116, Elk Point was 48, and St. Paul was 104,” she outlined, adding when it comes to their five-year stats of 516, they’re “right in the middle” of those other detachments.
Sarah Brassard, insurance broker with MHK Insurance in Bonnyville, described auto theft as “a real problem in our area.”
“In the past month, I think I’ve had five clients where their older vehicle got stolen,” Brassard told the Nouvelle.
She added, “It’s always been a problem, I think, but in the past three years, it’s been even more frequent.”
What tends to be targeted?
Although local police have seen a pattern when it comes to the types of vehicles being stolen, Parke isn’t so sure it has anything to do with a particular make or model.
“Overall, I can say trucks are stolen more often than cars or SUVs, but that could just be because we live in truck country. It doesn’t necessarily mean trucks are easier or more desirable to steal. It could just be based on opportunity,” she stated.
Guy Demers of Lloyd Sadd Demers’ Insurance said companies receive a list every year from the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) that details vehicles more prone to being stolen.
Based on the inventory, in 2019 the 2007 Ford F350 SD four-wheel drive took the top spot as the automobile stolen the most in Alberta, followed by the 2006 model of the same truck. The 2006 Ford F250 SD four-wheel drive ended up in third, in fourth was the 2004 Ford F250, and sliding into fifth was the 2005 Ford F350 SD four-wheel drive.
Your vehicle’s been stolen, now what?
Once a vehicle has been reported stolen to the RCMP, officers enter the information into their Canada-wide computer system, which will alert any police agency, whether it’s RCMP, provincial, or municipal, of the theft.
That way if it’s pulled over, Parke explained, the officer conducting the traffic stop will be notified by the telecoms operator that it has been flagged as stolen.
“Once it’s recovered we will attempt to glean any evidence from that vehicle that we can that might lead us to who the suspect was that stole it. Sometimes the person who stole it isn’t necessarily the person who was last in possession of it,” detailed Parke. “There may be a couple of different avenues that can be pursued and more than one person may be held responsible.”
However, Parke stressed that all investigating methods are on a “case-by-case basis and evidence we can gather from one vehicle may not be present in another.”
“The weather conditions and other elements can affect our ability to pull fingerprints, but we do our best with what we have.”
In order to create a claim with your insurance company should you have the proper theft coverage, you need to inform the RCMP that the vehicle was stolen.
“The problem with theft claims is they aren’t fun to go through,” exclaimed Demers, adding it can be a lengthy process.
“We have to allow the RCMP time to find the vehicle. We can’t just pay the claim and then find out that the car’s sitting three-doors down,” he added. “You’re better off to do everything you can to protect your vehicle from being stolen as opposed to just relying on the insurance to take care of it.”
Not all vehicles recovered are in good condition
“A good percentage of vehicles stolen are recovered, that being said, the timeframe in which they’re recovered can vary from hours to days, to even months,” explained Parke. “The longer it’s away, the more likely it will be damaged or have internal engine issues depending on how it was being driven.”
She continued, “The recovery statistics are good, but that doesn’t speak to necessarily the condition it’s in once it's recovered.”
In 2019, the local RCMP found 168 automobiles that had been reported stolen, however, that doesn't mean the investigation or complaint originated in this area. In some cases, detachments in other jurisdictions will recover a vehicle that has been taken from another community.
“When we recover a vehicle that was stolen out of another jurisdiction, we work in conjunction and collaboratively with other units and we do the follow-up on their behalf with the vehicle and then provide them with the information for them to then follow-up on their end.”
Brassard noted there are often unexpected costs incurred when vehicles are recovered.
“Let’s say they find your vehicle far away from where you live, you might have to pay tow fees to bring it back, or impound fees, all of those things where if you have the coverage, your insurance company will pay for it, but if you don’t, you have to pay for it to repossess your vehicle.”
Not all insurance policies cover these expenses, Demers explained.
In fact, if you don’t have the proper coverage, you could be on the hook for your rental car as well.
So what is covered by insurance?
“The way it works is there are four coverage options for an auto policy: liability insurance, which covers the other person… then you have your choice of collision, comprehensive, or specified perils,” outlined Demers.
While collision covers basic accidents such as hitting a tree, comprehensive takes it one-step further.
“Comprehensive and specified perils includes theft, fire, windstorm, hail, lightening,” Demers noted. “It’s not that expensive of a premium to buy specified perils, it all depends on the value of your vehicle. If it’s very expensive, you usually buy full coverage.”
But, that’s not always the case. Brassard said there have been situations where the owners of older vehicles have opted out of the comprehensive or specified perils options.
“It’s up to the client to decide whether or not they can afford to lose their car if it does get stolen,” exclaimed Demers.
He added, “For the price, I would much rather have a client come in and say ‘my car was stolen…’ and then say ‘yes, we have coverage for it,’ than say ‘sorry, all you had was liability and you’re on your own for your car.’”
Not included in your auto policy are the contents inside of your vehicle, which is a common misconception Demers comes across.
“If you’ve had your purse stolen, camera, luggage, tools… none of that is covered under your auto policy, you have to have that covered by having the appropriate personal lines policy.”
If you community is known for vehicle theft, insurance companies may increase your premiums, a fact that is also taken into consideration on a person-to-person basis.
“Most people will probably never have a theft claim for an automobile, but if you have three in three years, the insurance company is going to be wondering why you’re having problems,” explained Demers.
Tips on how to prevent theft from happening in the first place
“The number one thing I always harp on is to not leave the keys in the vehicle,” Parke stressed. “Most people that have a car starter, you don’t need to leave the keys in the vehicle for that. If you don’t have a car starter, it’s not recommended to leave your vehicle unattended with the keys in the ignition, even if you have another set of keys and you can lock it, all the offender has to do is smash a window to gain access and take off with that vehicle.”
She continued, “I’m surprised by the amount of vehicle thefts that come through our office where the main reason it was stolen or what made it easy was the keys were left in it.”
The RCMP also recommends parking in well-lit areas when leaving your vehicle on the street or in a parking lot.
Another tip is to remove all valuables from your car or truck, something some local residents have learned the hard way.
Léa Cousins told the Nouvelle via social media her vehicle has been broken into, with only smaller items such as spare change and a GPS taken.
Regardless of whether it’s just the contents or the vehicle itself being taken, Brassard noted this pattern of criminal activity is nothing new.
“It’s definitely not out of nowhere, this has always been an issue."