Ankle bracelets fail to stop brazen thieves

WINNIPEG — It may be a sign of how brazen the criminals have become in the city known as Canada’s auto-theft capital.

WINNIPEG — It may be a sign of how brazen the criminals have become in the city known as Canada’s auto-theft capital.

Police say two teenagers who were already on the list of Manitoba’s most chronic car thieves stole a Ford Fusion from a Winnipeg garage Monday night while they were still wearing electronic ankle bracelets from previous convictions.

Electronic monitoring, increased supervision and court orders simply haven’t deterred some of the city’s worst repeat offenders, Const. Jacqueline Chaput said Tuesday.

“There are certain people who definitely do comply with these (court-ordered) conditions. Unfortunately, there are some that don’t,” she said. “This is a perfect example of some that do not comply with those conditions. They just do not care.”

Police say the two males, 17 and 19, broke into three homes and found car keys inside the third house. They took the car and drove through city streets at speeds topping 100 kilometres an hour. Police gave chase briefly, but stopped because of the high speeds. The suspects eventually crashed and were arrested, Chaput said.

Officers were able to find them because they were wearing ankle bracelets that the Manitoba government has made mandatory for the most chronic car thieves, she said, although at some point, the thieves had tried to remove the monitors.

The chase occurred the same day another youth pleaded guilty to stealing a sport utility vehicle in March 2008, when he was just 14, and crashing it into a taxi, killing the driver. The boy is to be sentenced in the new year and the Crown is seeking an adult term.

Such crimes are no longer much of a surprise for Winnipeg residents. The city has long posted the highest per-capita auto-theft rate in the country, according to Statistics Canada annual crime reports. A long list of bold vehicle thefts includes a 2007 encounter in which an early-morning jogger in a quiet neighbourhood was deliberately rammed by the occupants of a stolen SUV.

The problem has the union that represents city police officers calling for tougher penalties.

“There are those who are completely incorrigible,” Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association, said. “At what point do we say . . . we’ve given every opportunity to this individual to change their behaviour and they won’t . . . so they stay in custody where we’re guaranteed that they’re not going to steal any more cars and destroy any more families.”

Winnipeg’s car theft rate has dropped from its peak four years ago, in part due to provincial and federal laws requiring immobilizers in many vehicles. But Sutherland said thieves are still finding ways to take cars and are now more likely to steal one with a driver behind the wheel.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of carjackings that have occurred,” Sutherland said. “In late November, early December, there were probably four or more separate incidents of relatively alarming carjacking-type situations.”

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