The problem: Winnipeg isn’t just the Canadian capital of car theft; it holds the North American title as well. In 2006, the Manitoba capital recorded 2,115 incidents per 100,000 people, a whopping 343 per cent above the national average. By 2007, it was down about 11 per cent to 1,878 incidents per 100,000 people, but the figure was still high enough for the ‘Peg to keep the top spot.
What’s being done to deal with it: According to Manitoba Public Insurance (MPI) spokesperson Brian Smiley, joyriders are overwhelmingly responsible for Winnipeg’s auto-theft problem. Smiley estimates that, for every ten car thefts in Winnipeg, eight or nine can be attributed to joyriding. “It’s theft of opportunity, as opposed to commercial auto theft,” Smiley says. To combat the problem, MPI, along with the provincial justice department and the Winnipeg police, set up the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy. The most visible component of the strategy involved outfitting the most commonly stolen vehicles with immobilizers. Local officials coupled this with an intensive supervision program for high-risk offenders that have been released back into the community and an outreach program for troubled youth. Rick Linden, the chair of Winnipeg’s auto theft task force, attributes Winnipeg success in fighting auto theft—he estimates the number of thefts is down from a peak of 40 cars per day in 2004 to about six per day in the last three months of 2008—to having crafted a specialized approach to the problem, one based on information gathered from interviews with car thieves and patterns in crime statistics. “In the area of crime prevention,” Linden says, “planning up front and figuring out what the problem is before you try and solve it is really critical.”