Police make 51 arrests, recover 215 stolen vehicles in investigation into organized GTA crime ring

Police forces in the Greater Toronto Area have arrested 51 people and recovered more than 215 stolen vehicles, worth approximately $17 million, after a months-long investigation into an organized vehicle crime ring.

More than 150 charges were laid combined.

Officers also recovered 15 handguns, an assault rifle, ammunition, a kilogram of cocaine, and “various reprogramming devices” over the course of the investigation, dubbed ‘Project Touchdown,’ which launched in May of this year.

“This project focused on organized criminal groups responsible for the increasing number of car theft across the Greater Toronto Area,” York Regional Police (YRP) Chief Jim Macsween told reporters Wednesday.

Macsween said that, in York Region alone, vehicle thefts have gone up more than 44 per cent over the last year, and the force is recovering six stolen vehicles a day on average.

According to investigators, there are “multiple groups” operating “provincially and internationally” from a home base in the GTA who have been stealing and trafficking vehicles. In many cases, officers said, the stolen cars were shipped to different continents – primarily, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

A majority of the vehicles are being stolen using a strategy in which the suspects manage to reprogram key fobs, investigators allege. A video uploaded by York Regional Police to YouTube demonstrates one of the ways in which thieves can manipulate fobs – they call it a “relay theft.”

In a relay theft, one person usually stands by the targeted vehicle, while the other stands near the house with a device that can pick up a signal from the key fob.

“Wireless key fobs can be very easily manipulated,” police said. To prevent this from happening, officers suggest investing in a faraday box, a device that blocks external signals in which key fobs can be placed.

The groups are not only dealing in vehicle thefts, Macsween said, but also in the trafficking of illegal guns and narcotics.

Of the sixteen guns recovered, Macsween said a majority have been traced back to the United States. The force is in the process of “tracing the origins” of all the weapons.

HOW TO AVOID CAR THEFT: POLICE

In an effort to reduce the number of thefts in the Greater Toronto Area, police offered some tips to residents.

First, they recommend parking your vehicle in a locked garage, if possible.

Purchasing a steering wheel lock and a faraday box are also advisable, they said – both of which can be bought online.

If possible, the force also recommends investing in a quality video surveillance system. 

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