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Vehicle theft causes problems on St. Maarten/St. Martin


~ Close to 500 cars stolen island wide in 2013 ~

POINTE BLANCHE–Theft of motor vehicles is an issue that quite a number of people have been affected by in St. Maarten/St. Martin.

Alberto Philips is the owner of a car rental business, Arthur’s Car Rentals, based in Pointe Blanche. He has been a victim of vehicle theft twice in the last two months.

The first vehicle was stolen near Oyster Pond on French St. Martin, the second one on Belair road, near the hospital. One of his cars was found on the French side of the island, in Quartier d’Orleans. It was severely damaged and most parts had been removed.

The total damage to the company is some US $10,000.–, money that Philips has worked hard for.

Philips is furious. “I worked hard to buy these cars. Imagine you walk out into the street and your car is gone. You look again, thinking you’ve gone crazy, but no, your car has really disappeared, simply because someone else doesn’t want to work for his money.”

Philips believes vehicle theft is an ongoing and increasing problem for both sides of the island. “Over 300 cars are missing on an island of 37 square miles. How is that possible? What is being done about it?”

Many cars are taken for their parts. Obtaining car parts on an island is costly due to the fact that they have to be flown in from the mainland. There appears to be a lively market for car parts, with stolen parts ending up being bought by legitimate companies.

Other cars have their identities changed, for instance by changing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), re-spraying the car and changing the tyres. These cars are then sold on to unsuspecting buyers.

Some 346 cars were stolen on the French side between January 1 and October 31. This is a 65% increase from the 2012 figures, which saw 210 stolen in the same period. Capitaine Jouault of the Gendarmerie said there is currently no particular increase or fresh outbreak in car thefts on the French side.

On the Dutch side, the figures are a lot lower and there has actually been a slight decrease in the amount of stolen cars. Police Spokesman Inspector Henson disclosed the figures showing 183 cars being stolen in total in 2012, and 135 cars having been stolen from January until the end of November 2013.

“We do normally see a small seasonal increase towards the end of the year until the first month of the new year,” said Henson, “but in total, we have a small decrease in car thefts. That does not mean that we stop paying attention to the problem. We have paid a lot of attention to car theft and will continue to do so.”

Henson explained that the St. Maarten Police Force has special teams on the roads that stop and check any suspicious looking vehicles. “If a driver is not the registered owner and can’t give an acceptable account for his presence in the car, he gets arrested,” he said.

Officers are trained to recognise suspicious vehicles, and know what to look for. “If a VIN number has been tampered with, officers will see it,” said Henson.

Henson is aware of the trade in stolen car parts. “Our officers keep their eyes open. Our community officers in particular find out what is happening in their area. If any tips come in about specific garages having these parts in their possession, we will follow up these leads and investigate.” he said.

Although vehicle crime is a big problem in St. Maarten, it’s not the biggest issue the police currently have to deal with. The focus at the moment is on decreasing the amount of violent offences such as armed robberies and violent thefts.

“But that does not mean to say that we pay any less attention to crimes such as vehicle theft. Our officers are always on the look-out and only yesterday, we arrested a well-known car thief (see related story –ed.),” said Henson.

Commandant Paul Betaille from the Gendarmerie said that he does not know why there is such a big difference between figures for the Dutch side and the French side, but he indicated that vehicle theft is a cross-border issue as “vehicle plates stolen on the Dutch side are found on the French side and vice versa, and many cars are found stripped of parts.”

He said the Gendarmerie have no specific plan of action to tackle the issue, but it is planning to continue measures such as vehicle checks, surveillance, inspection of suspicious garages, and checking shipments going out at ports for stolen parts.

Meanwhile, there are a number of things that car owners can do to minimise the chances of losing their car to thieves: Take precautions – have an alarm or a cut-off switch (a hidden switch which must be flicked to start the car) installed. If you do have an alarm, make sure it actually works. Park your car in a visible, well-lit area. Keep your vehicle documents outside of the car, and make sure you always have your plate number and your VIN on hand.

The first hour of any crime is called the “golden hour” and chances of the police finding your car are grater in the first hour, so make sure they receive the correct details as soon as possible after the theft.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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