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PATNET adopted as IBC national strategy


September 29, 2014
By Keith Copeland

The Provincial Auto Theft Network (PATNET) will expand to Alberta and Ontario before the end of 2014 and become a national strategy in 2015.

The announcement from Garry Robertson, National Director of Investigative Services for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC), comes as the bureau prepares to complete the Atlantic PATNET group with training for the RNC and Newfoundland RCMP in early 2015. The program was established in PEI in 2013 and Nova Scotia in 2012.

PATNET developed from a need to investigate auto thefts more thoroughly and with greater consistency, regardless of the agency involved.

The difficulty of these investigations was highlighted in a comprehensive analysis of vehicle crimes published by the New Brunswick Criminal Intelligence Service (CISNB) in 2009. The report recommended a provincial motor vehicle theft strategy be developed, including pro-active awareness, education and enforcement initiatives. It also referenced the lack of specialized auto theft investigations and suggested pursuing a provincial strategy.

Building on the momentum of the report and long awaited auto theft changes in the Criminal Code, a group of investigators created NB PATNET in 2010. It was officially launched in May 2011 with a two day training session in Moncton, NB, funded by the IBC.

The group’s primary goal was to have representation from every law enforcement agency in the province, a goal it reached by the end of 2011. More than 40 PATNET members were trained.

Criminals have no boundaries yet police are frequently disconnected from other agencies because of dissimilar computer programs, jurisdictions and procedures which severely limit contact and communication. Through PATNET membership, officers can now send a group e-mail sharing intelligence or advising of a new trend, or e-mail an individual officer from another agency to ask for help.

Members are expected to act as a resource to officers within their own agency and to have a working knowledge of auto theft investigations and intelligence in their jurisdiction. Regional meetings and conference calls provide an opportunity to compare notes but the real value comes in having immediate contact with a PATNET member in another agency when investigations cross boundaries.

Educating all front line officers is essential to reducing vehicle thefts and successfully investigating crimes that do occur. A comprehensive multi module seminar called was developed specifically to provide front line officers knowledge and tools they can use every day. They initiate many auto theft investigations through roadside observations and can then easily contact a PATNET member for assistance or follow-up.

workshop/seminars provide knowledge, training and on-going support for auto theft investigations at the root level and provide a perfect opportunity for patrol officers to co-mingle with auto theft experts.

Each module is presented during an eight hour day on a rotational basis; each year of the three part series builds upon the previous one in a ‘stand-alone’ format. Attendees can begin at any stage without feeling they’ve missed pieces. With a three year rotation, the workshops will be updated with new content, case law, etc. A training certificate is awarded to attendees.

Seminars are held every June in Dieppe, NB. This central location maximizes participation all regions of Atlantic Canada at minimal cost, thanks in part to the IBC sponsorship and other local supporters. Practically everyone is within driving distance without requiring the expense of overnight accommodations. Attendance averages around 100 each year.

Instructors are experienced law enforcement officers, salvage dealers, IBC Investigators and others who have experienced challenges, curve balls and attempts to deceive. All have lectured intensively to the RCMP, municipal police, other law enforcement agencies and police cadets. Many are recognized experts in their field through testimony at provincial and federal courts.

Atlantic region PATNET membership has a broad cross section, with representation from provincial motor vehicle departments, highway safety sections, commercial vehicle enforcement and others. Discussion at training courses has been instrumental in providing a clear “through the windshield” perspective of auto theft issues. Putting cops and government bureaucrats together has initiated a number of on-going dialogues related to gaps and inconsistencies in provincial motor vehicle laws which affect auto theft investigations.

The dialogue took place first within the provincial network but as PATNET spread throughout the Maritimes, it now occurs across the region. It is evident how the patchwork of laws within these small provinces allows criminal VIN tampering to proliferate. Inter-provincial criminals take advantage of this hopscotch of acts and statutes to milk the system.

Until PATNET there was no mechanism for a conversation to take place between the boots on the ground and policy decision makers. One criminal investigation involves members from three provinces communicating directly across their jurisdictional and bureaucratic boundaries.

The investigation centers on commercially manufactured travel trailers damaged in spring floods in Sussex, NB. Insurance adjusters branded the VINs as “non-repairable” — not rebrandable for public use. One of the trailers arrived recently in PEI with a replacement VIN (T-VIN) issued by the NS motor vehicle registry.

A PEI PATNET member contacted Guy Ouellette of the IBC because he was suspicious about the provenance. It had been registered in Nova Scotia under the “utility trailer” classification and had a replacement NS VIN instead of a full 17 digit VIN from the manufacturer. An expert examination validated his suspicion.

Ouellette determined that the original public number had been ground off; he located a secondary VIN and used it to prove it was one of the flooded trailers.

PEI and the IBC are preparing press releases to alert the public to the dangers of these criminally altered vehicles, which are unfit for use in their original condition despite lack of visible damage.

The investigation continues but one of the early successes is PATNET bringing together all the stakeholders for a ringside seat into a criminal VIN tampering investigation. People who wouldn’t normally be part of it will see how loopholes are exploited and investigative roadblocks hamper enquiries.

The PEI officer who initiated the investigation frequently interacts with law enforcement through his work with the highway safety division, although rarely to this extent. Through his training and involvement, others will add their knowledge and experience to the investigation and eventual debrief.

Informal discussions are already happening about how to homogenize the various provincial statutes and acts to combat criminal enterprise. This dialogue involves front line law enforcement from federal, provincial and municipal agencies and public safety from three Maritime Provinces.

The PATNET model has been relatively easy to adopt. It has had excellent support from police chiefs associations, the RCMP, Criminal Intelligence Service and other agencies. The Maritime region is relatively small, allowing PATNET to be implemented relatively painlessly. Expansion into Alberta and Ontario will be more difficult because of the numbers of people involved but the IBC is committed to making the network national.

PATNET has already accumulated some success stories and has bridged the gap between agencies in auto theft information sharing. The model can be implemented in other provinces and easily tailored to regional differences.

The IBC received the “Business Excellence Award” from the Crime Prevention Association of New Brunswick in 2013 for its support and development of NB PATNET. This independent group evaluated the program, weighed its merits and found that it ticks off every box in the crime reduction checklist.

The International Association of Auto Theft Investigators also recently recognized the program model with a certificate of merit recognizing “for successful efforts and results in combating vehicle theft and related crimes.”

The partnership between IBC and PATNET reflects how the delivery of law enforcement training and practices is changing to keep pace with the criminal element.

BIO

Keith Copeland retired in January 2013 after 32 years service with the Saint John Police Force. He was a founding member of NB PATNET and remains involved. He welcomes questions. Contact him at kicopeland3211@gmail.com for more information.