You walk outside and find your car missing. After a few seconds of irrational denial — "I'm sure I just misplaced it," you think — you realize the car has been stolen. What you don't realize is that by the time you file a police report, the car could already be spare parts.
It's an alarmist scenario, but police proved it could be done at a demonstration at the Clarion Hotel on Newtown Pike on Tuesday. Six officers stripped a car of most of its valuable components in just six minutes.
The demonstration was part of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigations conference, a three-day event that brought about 100 officers from as far away as Ontario to Lexington.
The six officers — two from the Lexington police department and four from the Kentucky State Police — made short work of a seized Ford Taurus.
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The trunk lid was off in 38 seconds. All four wheels were off in 57 seconds flat. The hood was gone in 1 minute, 33 seconds. At the 5:10 mark, all the doors had been removed.
At 6:10, all that remained was the car's frame, which a savvy car thief would crush and sell for scrap metal so authorities can't track the VIN number. (The engine also remained in the engine bay since officers didn't want to spill oil in the hotel's parking lot, but with just a few more minutes, that could be removed and dismantled as well.)
Stolen car parts can be sold to junk yards, body shops or directly to law-abiding citizens just looking to fix up their ride. They bring a variety of prices: the hood, fenders and truck lid can bring hundreds of dollars apiece. Headlight assemblies can fetch upward of $1,000 for newer cars. Even the airbag, lifted gently from the steering wheel to keep it from deploying, can bring in $500, officers said.
Thieves dismantle the cars because the parts are usually worth more than the whole car, State Police Trooper David Jude said.
"It doesn't take but just a very few minutes and that car is completely disassembled, which makes it a lot more difficult for law enforcement to track," Jude said. "Also it becomes a lot more profitable for people who are doing the operations."
At any given time, there are between 65,000 and 70,000 stolen or missing vehicles in Kentucky, including cars, boats, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles, Jude said. Many of those have been scrapped.
While Lexington's exact numbers weren't immediately available, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said it's not unusual for police to investigate 60 or 70 stolen cars per month.
"Fifty percent of the cars that are stolen have the doors unlocked and have the keys inside," she said.
Thus, the point of Tuesday's demonstration: Always keep your car locked, keep the keys in your possession and park in well-lit, public places.
If your car breaks down on the interstate, "go back and get it," Jude said. Many cars dismantled in chop shops are stolen from the side of the road after sitting abandoned for several days.
The auto-theft conference is the first of four conferences expected to bring thousands of officers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue to Lexington this summer.
On July 16, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives will hold its annual convention in Lexington.
On Aug. 7, the Kentucky Tactical Officers' Association will bring tactical officers from all over the state to compete and train. On Aug. 21, the International Association of Women Police will host its annual convention downtown.