An undercover investigation into auto theft operations in San Diego County landed dozens of suspects in jail and led to the recovery of $1 million worth of stolen cars, the San Diego County District Attorney’s office announced Thursday.
During the eight-month investigation dubbed “Operation Kill Switch,” undercover officers with the San Diego County Regional Auto Theft Task Force (RATT) purchased stolen vehicles, narcotics, body armor, and firearms from more than 90 individuals while capturing the interactions on video, District Attorney Summer Stephan said at a press conference Thursday.
A grand jury indicted 60 people after reviewing evidence linking them to vehicle thefts in San Diego County, as well as Los Angeles, Orange, and Riverside counties.
In an early morning sweep Thursday, officers took 38 people into custody.
“Our message today to those that want to profit off stealing other people’s cars is, don’t do it,” Stephan said. “We are here unified to stop you.”
Suspects face various felony charges, including vehicle theft, possession of stolen property and possession of illegal weapons, Stephan said. All are facing probation or up to 10 years in prison, depending on prior criminal background.
They were expected in court on Thursday, Friday, and Monday.
Vehicle thefts have been increasing for the past two years, according to CHP statistics. Last year 12,207 vehicles were stolen in San Diego County, a 13 percent increase from the year before when 10,668 vehicles were reported stolen.
Stephan says the increase is why stings like Operation Kill Switch are necessary.
"We've seen vehicle thefts start to go back up in recent years, so staying vigilant and supporting RATT's mission is an important component of keeping San Diego one of the safest urban counties in the nation."
During the operation, officers recovered more than 70 stolen vehicles worth an estimated $1.1 million and ranging from older model Hondas to luxury Teslas and Cadillacs. $25 thousand worth of stolen armor and military gear was also recovered.
In addition to the detectives assigned to RATT, Operation Kill Switch also involved special agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS).