Toronto Police Recommend Letting Thieves Steal Your Car

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

While car crime has been up generally in recent years, some North American cities have seen staggering increases in automotive theft. Toronto estimates that it has endured a nearly 150-percent in automotive crime over the past six years and local authorities are rolling out a new tactic to cope with the situation — police have advised the public to just let thieves take their vehicle.

"To prevent the possibility of being attacked in your home, leave your fobs at your front door, because they're breaking into your home to steal your car,” Toronto Police Service Constable Marco Ricciardi told the public at a community safety meeting held late last month in Etobicoke. “They don't want anything else.”

His stated concern was that some of the thieves that have been caught were apprehended with handguns. This is despite the Canadian government having announced a ban and mandatory confiscation of many firearms three years ago and the subsequent ban on all handgun sales within the country. However, Ricciardi’s solution is to just avoid contact with thieves by not giving them a reason to enter your home.

“A lot of them that they’re arresting have guns on them and they are not toy guns,” he said. “They are real guns. They’re loaded.”

His advice has caught the attention of media outlets the world over, sparking debate. The local response has also been conflicted. Some Canadians were already following these protocols before Ricciardi’s press conference speech. Regional media outlet blogTO reported on one household that left a note on the window of their vehicle notifying thieves that the door was unlocked before wishing them a great day. We’ve seen similar tactics being employed by drivers in San Francisco, which has also seen automotive crime ballooning.

With many of today’s stolen vehicles simply being used for joyriding, or as disposable vehicles to be used in other crimes, the assumption is that most will eventually be recovered by police. Chop shops are also less prevalent today than they were in prior decades and most modern vehicles are much easier to track, so the odds of seeing the old gal again are indeed better.

The assumption has been that police believed the overall increase in crime could be curtailed by letting thieves get away with what is likely to be the most valuable item. The Toronto City News reported that home invasions and break-and-enters related to auto theft rose 400 percent in 2023. But the act of willingly ceding your property to criminals doesn’t seem like an ideal solution and has been broadly mocked in the media.

Toronto Police did not wait for the global response to gently walk things back, however. Facing immediate backlash from the locals, authorities took to social media to say “While [Ricciardi was] well meaning, there are also other ways to prevent auto theft motivated home invasions,” before linking to an article listing auto theft and home invasion prevention tips.

It doesn’t explicitly disavow the statements made at the community safety meeting. But it does indicate that the police understood they were extremely unpopular with thousands of citizens who decided to express their displeasure.

Things are a tad more complicated than the above might lead you to believe, however. Earlier this year, the The Toronto Police Association (a union representing the city’s officers) has found itself bickering over a desired budget increase. The group has requested an extra $20 million (Canadian dollars) for local cops in addition to the almost $1.2-billion budget already allocated. On average, Toronto police officers are presently estimated to earn between $75,000 and $130,000 (again, all Canadian dollars) annually.

Mayor Olivia Chow offered $7.4 million to increase the budget, which the police union has essentially characterized as a budget reduction. A media campaign followed where the police ominously noted that the current response time for calls averaged 22 minutes. Interestingly, it also appeared to be hinting that time would only increase if the union’s demands were not met, using social media posts that were intentionally designed to create fear. While it’s unclear why Toronto cops would want to highlight the fact that their response time has increased by over 90 percent since 2010, this appears to be the tactic they’re running with to broaden their budget.

Critics have accused the police of fear mongering and effectively telling criminals they have plenty of time to accomplish any illicit activities. Having seen some of the ads myself, it’s hard to argue with the premise. There has also been rolling criticisms about the Toronto Police Service spending several years focusing on policy changes, progressive messaging, and quelling peaceful protests at the expense of solving the spike in violence and property crime.

That said, it’s difficult to frame Toronto as an isolated case. While the city’s policing strategy is somewhat unique, the increase in vehicular crime is not.

Chicago saw vehicle theft increase by 26 percent in 2023. But that number only compares data with 2022. Viewed from the perspective of what was normal in 2019, the city has endured a three-fold increase in automotive crime. Despite the staggering amount of security features equipped to modern vehicles, Chicago car thefts are happening at the highest rate seen in decades.

According to the LAPD Crime Database, Los Angeles has likewise seen automotive theft nearly double since 2019. Meanwhile, New York City is looking at a 191-percent increase within the same period. But it should be noted that this is only marginally worse than the statewide average of 181 percent. It would appear that car thefts are once again a fairly serious problem inside of North America.

[Image: Brent Smyth/Toronto Police Service]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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3 of 194 comments
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Mar 19, 2024

    Once again my home did not catch on fire and my fire extinguisher(s) stayed in the closet, unused. I guess I threw my money away on fire extinguishers.

    (And by fire extinguishers I mean nuclear missiles.)

    • Daniel J Daniel J on Mar 19, 2024

      A fire extinguisher literally saved by home from catching fire. Everyone should have 1. Maybe 3.

  • VoGhost VoGhost on Mar 22, 2024

    It's a question of time period. Auto thefts are up the last few years, in an environment where violent crime is falling quickly. I take a longer perspective than Matt does.

    There wouldn't be this confusion if Matt were to state actual facts rather than his interpretations and opinions. This under an opinion piece filed under "news blog."

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