Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided earlier is a general description of the problem of theft of vehicles for export across land borders, in particular to Mexico. To be more effective in your enforcement and prevention efforts, you must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing your local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.


The following groups have an interest in the export of stolen vehicles across land borders. Consider the contribution they might make to help you gather information about the problem and respond to it:†

  • Insurance companies and affiliated agencies (e.g., National Highway Loss Data Institute and National Insurance Crime Bureau) can identify the most frequently stolen vehicles and assist in the recovery of stolen vehicles.
  • Local auto dealerships can identify the most common vehicle models targeted in the jurisdiction and provide information about how easily they are stolen.
  • Neighborhood safety groups can identify factors that contribute to the problem and assist in finding solutions; for example, by bringing pressure to bear on local businesses to improve parking lot security.
  • Customs and Border Protection can assist in identifying and intercepting stolen vehicles (as discussed in the upcoming section "Responses to Export of Stolen Vehicles Across Land Borders").
  • Other local police agencies can share information about auto theft patterns and car theft rings.

† For more detailed information on shifting and sharing responsibility, see Response Guide No. 3 Shifting and Sharing Responsibility for Public Safety Problems.

Asking the Right Questions

Auto theft for export is often hidden among the general category of unrecovered vehicle thefts. Therefore, you should be alert to certain conditions. Your jurisdiction is at an increased risk of vehicles stolen for export to Mexico, if you have:

  • A close proximity to a border crossing into Mexico.
  • Few vehicle checks conducted due to heavy traffic.
  • Large immigrant communities with ties to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
  • An abundance of vehicles known as targets for export to Latin American countries.
  • A more serious vehicle theft problem than other nearby jurisdictions, with a high ratio of permanent vs. temporary theft of cars. Statistics indicate the number of permanent thefts have been increasing in recent years.
  • Many large parking lots where cars are left unattended by owners for lengthy periods of time and which are close to highways leading to the border.
  • Organized theft rings operating in your jurisdiction.
  • A disproportionate number of juveniles arrested for auto theft in your jurisdiction than in other nearby jurisdictions. These juveniles might work for organized theft rings.

To help you determine whether your jurisdiction experiences a significant number of thefts for export, request your crime analyst's help in calculating your jurisdiction's Location Quotients for Crime (LQC). These will show whether your auto theft rates, and, in particular, your rates of unrecovered thefts (assuming you have records of these) are particularly high. More information about calculating LQCs is in Appendix B.

Assuming you have a problem of vehicles stolen for export to Mexico, following are some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your problem. Your answers to these questions will help you choose the most appropriate responses, which are discussed later in this guide. Most importantly, these questions will help you determine the prevalence of the auto theft for export problem in your jurisdiction. (Those analyzing a theft for export problem in jurisdictions that are not close to the border with Mexico should adapt these questions to their own situations.)

Some of these questions may be difficult for you to answer, but you have an important source of information—the offenders you arrest. By carefully interviewing these offenders, you will learn the methods they use to steal cars and then get them across the border. Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 3, Using Offender Interviews to Inform Police Problem Solving provides guidance for conducting such interviews.

Data Gathering and Analysis

  • What data concerning auto theft for export are available within your jurisdiction?
  • Is there a database that records information about auto theft for export in your region? Do you have access to it?
  • If so, what type of information is collected in this database and how might it help you?


  • How are vehicles generally stolen (e.g., breaking in and defeating the ignition lock, carjacking, stealing keys, fraudulently renting from rental agencies)?
  • In how many cases were thieves able to get the car into Mexico before it was reported stolen?
  • What is the recovery rate of stolen cars in your jurisdiction?
  • What factors contribute to the incidence of auto theft for export in your jurisdiction?


  • What locations are most at risk (e.g., residential driveways, commercial establishments, particular neighborhoods, streets, or parking lots)?
  • Are there identifiable patterns and hot spots for vehicles stolen for export?
  • Are there any large parking lots that seem to be hot spots for auto theft generally and theft for export specifically? Do they differ from other large parking lots in terms of typical usage, security, or distance to freeway entrances?
  • What border crossing is most likely to be used by car thieves?
  • What is the distance from where cars are stolen to that border crossing or to a major highway leading to that border crossing?
  • What are the most likely routes used to move stolen vehicles to that border crossing?


  • What types of offenders seem to be involved in stealing vehicles for export?
  • What proportion of offenders are juveniles? Do they belong to known gangs in your jurisdiction? Do they seem to be working for organized crime groups?
  • In the case of known juvenile offenders:
    • Who are the most frequent offenders and what enforcement plan is being considered to target them?
    • Which ones are currently under court supervision and what are their special conditions that can return them to detention?
    • Can any illegal immigrants among them be detained at the border? If not, can your jurisdiction be notified that they have crossed the border?
    • What proportion are professional vehicle thieves?
    • Do offenders operate alone or in a group?
    • What proportion are repeat offenders? What enforcement plan is being considered to target them?
    • Do the offenders belong to gangs or organized crime rings, (e.g., "frontera rings")?
    • In what other crimes are the offenders involved (e.g., drug trafficking, smuggling illegal immigrants)?
    • What proportion of offenders are locals? What proportion are outsiders?
    • Do the offenders reside primarily in the United States or Mexico?
    • In what proportion of incidents are the offenders apprehended?
    • How do the thieves get cars across the border to Mexico?
    • What reasons do offenders offer for being engaged in auto theft for export?

    Targeted Vehicles

    • What kinds of vehicles are most at risk for being stolen for export?
    • What are the security features of the models most at risk? What types of anti-theft or recovery systems are available on these targeted vehicles?
    • How different are these models from those stolen for joyriding or any purpose other than export?
    • Are these models legally available for sale in Mexico?

    Current Responses

    • What actions have police already taken to reduce the incidents of auto theft for export?
    • What are the typical outcomes of criminal prosecutions of the offenders?
    • What are the current practices regarding surveillance of the locations most at risk? How have these practices helped in preventing auto theft from these locations?
    • What types of security measures are taken at borders to prevent stolen cars from crossing?
    • How effective have these measures been in apprehending offenders?
    • How many stolen vehicles exported from your jurisdiction have been repatriated? Last year? For the past 5 years?

    Measuring Your Effectiveness

    Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. You should measure effects not only in the target area, but also in the areas immediately surrounding it to see if there is any evidence of displacement or diffusion of benefits (for assistance, see Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 10, Analyzing Crime Displacement and Diffusion). Such an analysis might suggest ways to improve your response if it has achieved limited results.

    Below are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to the problem of vehicle theft for export:

    • Reduced numbers of auto thefts, particularly unrecovered auto thefts
    • Changes in the LQCs for auto theft and unrecovered auto theft that suggest the problems have reduced in your jurisdiction
    • Reduced number of insurance claims related to unrecovered vehicles
    • Decreased total costs of investigating auto theft for export
    • Increased arrest rates of thieves en route to or at the border
    For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the Problem-Solving Tools Guide No. 1, Assessing Responses to Problems.