If you live in York Region and own a vehicle that is considered at high risk for theft, you could soon be getting a visit from police as part of a new crime prevention campaign.

The initiative is part of a wider plan dubbed “Operation Auto Guard” to tackle an increase in auto theft, especially in the south end of the region.

Chief Jim MacSween detailed the campaign during a press conference on Tuesday.

He said that crime analysts have identified which neighbourhoods in York Region are most prone to vehicle theft and police are now in the process of visiting specific homes in so-called “red zones” in Vaughan, Richmond Hill, and Markham that have high-risk vehicles registered to them so that officers can share crime prevention tips.

They’re also handing out roughly 21,000 Faraday bags, a tool used to block signal duplicating devices that replicate key fobs, to people in these communities.

Further, police will be hosting community forums across each district, and are distributing pamphlets throughout identified neighbourhoods and disseminating information through local Neighbourhood Watch programs and on social media.

“Operation Auto Guard will ensure that YRP adequately equips our citizens with important crime prevention measures enhancing resiliency within our communities and safeguarding our neighbourhoods against auto theft,” MacSween said.

According to YRP, vehicle theft is up by 200 per cent since 2019 in York Region.

Year over year, they've almost doubled. So far in 2023, police have recorded upwards of 3,300 stolen vehicles with roughly 90 per cent of those occurrences happening in the south end of the region, they said.

Police said that some of the most frequently stolen vehicles include the following makes: Toyota Highlander, Lexus RX 350, Jeep Wrangler, Dodge Ram 1500, GMC Yukon, and Chevrolet Suburban.

MacSween said that in order to reduce auto thefts citizens can help by investing in home security cameras, parking vehicles inside the garage, not leaving key fobs by the door and storing them far away and in a Faraday bag, if possible, using steering wheel or panel locking devices, installing aftermarket GPS devices and deeper kill switches, and purchasing data port locking devices to prevent cloning.

YRP Chief Jim MacSween

Supt. Graham Beverly, also of YRP, said police will also be providing tips on what vehicle owners should do if they fall victim to theft and the important role aftermarket tracking devices can play, pointing to one instance just this past weekend where this kind of device helped investigators locate four stolen vehicles valued at more than $250,000.

“This is just one example of the opportunities the public has to assist in either preventing the theft or assisting in recovering stolen vehicles,” he said.

“Our goal with this initiative is to bring crime prevention tips to the forefront of people's minds, to assist York Regional Police and our partner agencies in deterring theft of vehicles. … This initiative is hoped to bring educational tips to the public to assist in reducing these incidents.”

Aside from this latest campaign, YRP has stepped up targeted enforcement and other large-scale, joint-forces operations with its police and community partners.

The force is also currently working in partnerships and collaborating with multiple sectors across the country and internationally, including CN Rail and Canadian Border Services.

“That investigation alone recovered over 250 vehicles with more than $19 million and resulted in over 30 people being brought before the courts,” Beverly said.

York Regional Police’s ongoing efforts to reduce vehicle theft include lobbying with insurance companies to implement incentive-base reduction programs for GPS installations and anti-theft devices, and working with vehicle manufacturers by sharing intelligence so that they can enhance security measures. The service is also part of a provincial Task Force to address vehicle theft.

“All of these partnerships cannot be overstated as we continuously rely on each other, to enhance policies, share intelligence, and conduct joint force operations to dismantle organized crime groups,” MacSween said.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca said the amount of vehicle thefts seen in recent years in York Region is heading in a “troubling direction” and those involved in this kind of criminal activity are “deploying increasingly sophisticated methods” to steal vehicles, which require an “increasingly sophistical response.”

He vowed that his municipality would do everything it can to support the efforts of the police and advocate for more help from other levels of government.

David West, the mayor of Richmond Hill, agreed.

“The amount of car thefts that have been happening recently has been alarmingly higher than it has been in the past and as was said before, the techniques that are being used by these thieves are far more sophisticated than they've ever been,” he said.

“I really applaud York Regional Police for continuing to be on the forefront of being active and proactive in the types of crime that we expect to be under control in our community.”