New unit investigates boat thefts - Dallas News |

New unit investigates boat thefts

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Summer boating season is in full swing and so is summer boat stealing season. But a new law enforcement unit in Texas is designed to stem the tide.

Sgt. Ned Nichols is on a mission to combat boat thieves -- checking id numbers and looking for stolen watercraft.

"One of our patrol techniques is come up in these marinas," he said. "You can roll up and down these slips and check boats as you go. You will see one that is tampered with or with a missing number."

And now, Texas Parks and Wildlife is getting him some help, assigning nine game wardens across the state to a new task force called the Marine Investigation Unit. Other wardens will also be trained in what to look for.

"A lot of our boat thieves are fairly sophisticated. They've worked in the boat business before and they know how to tamper with the numbers and they know how to make a stolen boat look good," Sgt. Nichols said. "What we do is we put them through a few extra classes and take them out in the field and show them what to look for."

The numbers are daunting. There are more than 1,300 current cases involving stolen boats and personal watercraft. The recovery rate on a stolen car is 70 to 80 percent, but stolen boats are more like 10 percent.

The new unit is spending a lot of time on Craigslist.

"I'll ask 'em how much did you give for this Jet Ski? It's a nice Jet Ski. And they'll say $500 on Craigslist and it's a Jet Ski that should be going for $3,000, something in that neighborhood. That's a red flag right there," said Martin Oviedo, a game warden.

Stolen watercraft are nearly always sold for cash.

"When these people want to meet you in the Wal-Mart parking lot and they say they'll send you the title later. Don't do it. You need to have the title in hand," Sgt. Nichols said.

Game wardens often learn about the crime once the unsuspecting buyers realize the title isn't coming.

"At that point they contact us and unfortunately one of the guys in our unit has to go seize the boat from them because it's still stolen. They're basically the second victim in the crime," Sgt. Nichols said.

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