ATPA Marks 25th Anniversary

Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania (January 1, 2019) – In 2019, Pennsylvania’s Automobile Theft Prevention Authority (ATPA) marks its 25th year and a successful legacy of auto theft prevention and reduction. Since the Authority’s inception in 1994, auto theft in Pennsylvania has decreased 76 percent, compared to a national decrease of 55 percent.

In the early 1990’s, auto theft rates across the country soared.  More than 4,200 cars were stolen each day. Higher theft rates brought widespread increases in car insurance premiums. The turning point for Pennsylvania came in 1994 when lawmakers joined with law enforcement, the insurance industry, and the public to form ATPA.  The group’s mission was to combat, reduce, and prevent auto theft through law enforcement, prosecutorial support, and public education.

“It has been a long history of sustained effort,” said Steven Wheeler, executive director since 2014. “The outcome is not mere chance. Pennsylvania’s auto theft rate has been at least 50% lower than the national rate since ATPA’s inception due to the dedicated, specially trained detectives, prosecutors and support staff who have been passionate about our cause for decades.”

In 1994, there were 54,153 vehicle thefts in Pennsylvania — nearly 150 cars stolen each day compared to 36 a day in 2018. While Pennsylvania’s rates continue to decline, nationwide auto thefts have been increasing since 2015. The keystone state outranks California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and nearly all other states in thefts per 100,000 registrations.

Other states have developed similar programs but few built the same structure or effectiveness. ATPA is a legislatively mandated, public-private entity that does not use any tax dollars.  It is funded by insurer assessments. Grants are distributed to law enforcement agencies based on need and their plan for how funds will be used. Grant renewals are contingent upon audits and results.

Once referred to merely as “auto theft,” it’s now more accurate to use the term “vehicle crimes” to refer not only to the actual theft/taking but the myriad of crimes related to title washing schemes, high end cargo theft, thefts of expensive parts, and more.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police asserts that a stolen vehicle is commonly a precursor to other violent crimes; for instance, criminals don’t rob banks, engage in gang shootings, or terrorism in their own car.  The theft of a vehicle is usually the first act in a string of violent crimes.

Other related crimes run the gamut from juvenile crime sprees to identity theft or home burglary because mail or credit cards or a garage opener was left in the car. In other cases, high-end cars are quickly exported to other countries by organized crime groups filling orders on the black market.

“ATPA’s model has endured the test of time: to commit to a reliable and steady funding stream with a minimum of bureaucratic or political interference,” Wheeler said. “We look forward to continuing our mission with vigor and vigilance for decades to come.”

For more information about auto theft in Pennsylvania, statistics, and resources, visit

View the ATPA 25th Anniversary infographic.

Pennsylvania Auto Theft Prevention Authority

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