MITCHELL: Where’s Tootie? Chicago’s rise in car thefts hits home

SHARE MITCHELL: Where’s Tootie? Chicago’s rise in car thefts hits home
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Tootie. | Mary Mitchell / Sun-Times

Where in the world is Tootie?

My daughter left her parked a block from her apartment when she went away for the Thanksgiving holiday.

When she came back a few days later, Tootie was gone. There wasn’t even broken glass to mark the spot where the car had been.

Thank the Lord; my daughter and granddaughter weren’t carjacked. Still, the theft is upsetting.

Is Tootie being stripped naked for parts?

Is the thief using poor Tootie as a getaway car in a crime spree?

Given the prevalence of identity theft, we’re also concerned that my daughter’s personal information could be gleaned from items left in the car’s glove compartment.

OPINION

With 22,853 thefts in 2016, the Chicago metropolitan area (which includes Naperville and Elgin) ranked 131st in motor-vehicle thefts per capita, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. We ranked fifth in the nation for total thefts, slightly ahead of New York.

“For many years, thefts were going down sharply in the country,” saysa the bureau’s Roger Morris. “Nationally, we are seeing thefts up about 6.6 percent nationwide.”

With less than 50,000 miles and barely a scratch on her, Tootie was a real bargain when we picked her up a couple of years ago.

Frankly, we didn’t think anyone would steal a 20-year-old Plymouth Breeze.

“What we see is that some of the older model cars are the most stolen,” Morris says. “The main reason is they don’t have anti-theft devices.

“Older model cars are being stolen by criminals looking for parts and looking to use the car to commit another crime.”

National Insurance Crime Bureau representatives recently met with the Chicago Police Department on this very topic, according to Morris, who says: “Many of the thefts are by Chicago’s organized gangs that are stealing cars to commit other crimes. They send young people under the age of 18 out to the suburbs to steal cars and bring them back to the city and use them to commit other crimes.

“They know those kids will not be treated harshly by the criminal justice system because of their age.”

Unfortunately, many owners of older cars opt out of comprehensive coverage. That could turn out to be a huge mistake.

According to Morris, if you have an older vehicle that’s stolen, it could cost you as much as $7,000.

He urges drivers not to leave any personal information, including the vehicle registration, in the glove compartment.

“Take a picture with the cell phone,” he says, pointing out the holiday shopping season presents more opportunities for thieves. “If a criminal is able to break into the car and get your personal information, they can go to your house.

“It’s very important that people not leave any valuables, packages and gift, visible. It is even more important not to leave anything with personal information. In this day and age, if you leave the registration in the car, it opens you up to other potential problems.”

Ernie Dannenberger, director of the Illinois secretary of state’s office’s vehicle services department, says Illinois law no longer requires drivers of “Division 1” vehicles — those designed to carry no more than 10 people — to have the registration in the vehicle.

“That is an Illinois law that only applies in Illinois,” Dannenberger says. “You want to be careful if you travel out of state.”

If your car is stolen, it’s also a good idea to have the license plate revoked, which can be done online or at an secretary of state facility.

As for me, I’m hoping the police will roll up on Tootie before the thieves can roll up on even more trouble.

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