Car thefts security camera

In this image made from a security camera, a man peers into the window of a car inside a private carport before running off.

Just two years ago, St. Joseph was ranked in the top 10 metropolitan areas in the United States for car thefts. And while exact numbers aren't out yet for 2019, car thefts are clearly a problem.

According to Buchanan County Sheriff's Captain Tiger Parsons, his department recovers a stolen and burned-out vehicle about once a week.

"They're not stealing them to sell them," Parsons said. "They drive it out into the county and they set it on fire."

He said thieves usually will target the easiest vehicles to steal, those with keys still in the ignition or car, and then go for a joyride.

"They run from the police two or three times, they may commit a few crimes in it. And then when they're done with it, it has no monetary value," Parsons said.

Not even the city of St. Joseph's vehicles are immune from the problem. On Monday, a city sewer truck was stolen and then recovered early Tuesday morning in a rural part of the county. Parsons said the reason for the theft was likely the most obvious: The keys were left in the car and it was stolen for a joyride.

"People think that we have a car theft ring going in St. Joe," Parsons said. "We have a bunch of youngsters, or maybe young adults, taking people's cars as a crime of opportunity."

St. Joseph resident Chance Barnes couldn't care less about the reason the thefts are happening, he just wants them to stop. Barnes said just a few days ago, he discovered a stolen car stashed on his brother's property. Turns out, the car was a Honda Civic that belonged to an elderly woman.

"I was pretty pissed," Barnes said. "Who steals from an old lady? She can't defend herself."

"Maybe it's just where I live, but this town is full of trash," he added.

Barnes said he's had several run-ins with would-be thieves. He installed a high-end camera system to document the issues, and recorded a man using a baseball bat to swat the camera, a man peeking into a car inside his carport and in one extraordinary instance, the cameras captured Barnes tackling a would-be thief. 

He said that whenever he spots someone lurking around, he posts the video on Facebook to ask for the public's help in identifying the individuals. If he finds someone he believes was lurking, he messages them on Facebook warning them to stay away.

"If it says 'cameras in use' you're going to get blasted on Facebook," Barnes said. "If I'm home, you're going to get blasted by me."

Parsons said cameras are a great investment because they provide piece of mind. 

"You can look at it and go, 'Oh there's a dog coming down the driveway.' or 'Oh it's a 1972 Econoline Van with three guys in ski masks,'" he said.

Official car theft statistics for the whole of 2019 have not been posted by the city, but continually updated stats from the city indicate car thefts were up for the month of July compared to 2018.

According to those stats, 77 motor vehicle thefts were reported inside the city last month, compared to 71 in 2018.

Almost 30 motor vehicle thefts have been reported since Aug. 1, according to St. Joseph's Community Crime Map provided by Lexis Nexus. In 2018, the city reported 66 motor vehicle thefts for August.

The latest data from the Missouri Department of Public Safety shows only about 15 percent of car thefts are solved by law enforcement.

Matt Hoffmann can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @NpNowHoffmann.