KSBY Investigates: Police Chief: Santa Maria on track to hit rec - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

KSBY Investigates: Police Chief: Santa Maria on track to hit record 1,000 auto thefts in 2014, 2013 numbers grow

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Police Chief Ralph Martin said Santa Maria is on track to hit 1,000 auto thefts by the end of this year-- a number he called "staggering."

The chief also revealed the department had under reported its 2013 numbers by two dozen.

Chief Martin shared that information Wednesday in his first interview since a recent KSBY investigation of the city's auto theft epidemic.

That investigation found Santa Maria had more vehicles stolen in 2013 than the combined totals for 10 other cities on the Central Coast.

At a news conference last July, the SMPD released crime stats showing 730 reported auto thefts in 2013. That number now has been raised to 754.

The higher number followed a California Public Records request from KSBY to the SMPD in November.

KSBY asked why data provided by the city revealed dozens more thefts than the 730 the SMPD reported to the state and the public.

After SMPD staff took a closer look at their original numbers, they discovered 24 cases not reported to the state that came in after their monthly deadlines.

During that same review, they also found several thefts included on the list originally provided to KSBY were duplicates, and that 2012 numbers were also under reported by 13, jumping from 399 to 412.

Chief Martin said he was not concerned about the discrepancies, but will correct the final totals.

"We will make it to the larger number because that would make it more accurate number. So we will have to go in and have our new supervisor send it to the state to make the adjustment," he said.

Chief Martin said better software and a new records management system should improve the accuracy of future crime statistics released by the SMPD.

The chief also told KSBY he will announce a plan soon to target auto thieves.

"We are going to impact this. I guarantee you and I told the City Council and city manager this is the biggest problem we are facing in the city," said Chief Martin.

The chief declined to share many specifics of his plan to curb the auto thefts, but he did say it would include "bait" cars to catch thieves and public service announcements to educate the community.

Chief Martin also told KSBY it will involve the California Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies on the Central Coast.

Reporter Caroline Lowe asked the chief what he hopes to be able to report a year from now.

His reply: "I hope these numbers are down 25 to 30 percent and they continue to go down."

The chief will unveil his strategy to curb auto thefts at a news conference January 21.

LINKS: 2012, 2013 and 2014 revised numbers.

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