Automotive Recycling (AR): How long will it take before NMVTIS makes a significant impact on curbing vehicle fraud in the United States?
Major Greg Terp: NMVTIS is already having a significant impact and was very much needed to address criminal fraud activity related to vehicles. As we continue to evaluate and work with stakeholders, it can have an even bigger impact.
The impacts are twofold: NMVTIS makes it more difficult to conduct a fraud by enabling stakeholders, such as the various states, to electronically talk to each other in “real time” thus closing a significant loophole. It also allows investigators, law enforcement, and private industry to look for indicators of fraud and follow leads to identify criminal activity. This will have a prevention and reactive impact to criminal activity.
AR: What plans, if any, does the DOJ have to market the program to the consumer as many are still unaware of it?
Terp: From my perspective, educating consumers is one of the key factors we are looking at on the NMVTIS Advisory Board, and after the review we will make our recommendations, if any. My observation is that the DOJ has worked hard at educating consumers and key stakeholders with news releases and the website. Their decision to create the Advisory Board is another key step.
AR: How can NMVTIS help, if at all, with the international vehicle fraud/crime problems?
Terp: Your question is very much on target when considering that we are in a “global” economy for both legitimate and illegal business operations. There are extensive organized crime groups moving stolen vehicles and parts across international borders.
During my tenure as the Commander of the Miami-Dade Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force (1996-2007), the international vehicle fraud/crime problem was a major area of concern being addressed by our investigators. Many of our programs and investigations relied on accurate and timely data. I was a member of, and for several years chaired, the North American Export Committee (NAEC) that was formed in 1996 by U.S. Customs, bringing federal, state, local law enforcement; other governmental entities; and private industry together (from the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with participation by Interpol) to combat the exportation of stolen vehicles from North America. We clearly recognized the importance of NMVTIS and its full implantation became one of our priority goals and a key component in combating international organized crime efforts.
NMVTIS not only is key to our efforts to fight criminal activity, it is a core part of identifying, attacking, and preventing international terrorism. Vehicles are a key factor in funding, transportation, surveillance, smuggling routes, and being utilized as weapons by terrorist organizations worldwide. The European community recognized the link of vehicles and terrorism in a white paper years ago to support a similar system to NMVTIS in linking vehicle registration from their member countries.
AR: What are the most recent figures on how much vehicle fraud costs the American consumer?
Terp: I do not have the exact figures, but fraud continues to be a significant problem facing law enforcement and vehicles are a core part of that issue. Even the best statistics are difficult in identifying how vast the true problem is. It gives us a snapshot, but when looking at fraud cases in general, they remain “below the radar” for long periods of time, sometimes years, before being exposed. Thus we don’t know how bad the problem really is, but the statistics we do have show it is significant, and the reality is that it is even worse.
AR: What are your goals, or vision, as the Advisory Board chairman, for NMVTIS?
Terp: First, I applaud the DOJ and Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) for putting the Advisory Board together. As with any legislation, the well-meaning new regulation or law has a specific goal, in this case to protect our citizens from fraudulent and criminal activity. Yet it has impacts, some positive and some negative, on the various stakeholders. The first meeting of the [27-member] board brought together a diverse group of stakeholders, some with competing interests, to first learn about what NMVTIS means overall and to each other.
The first goal I have for this board is to first understand the need for NMVTIS to safeguard our citizens and second to recognize the impacts to the other stakeholder groups so that we can work collectively to make this a better system by putting forth recommendations to BJA and DOJ that reflect improvements to the system that reduce negative impacts the stakeholders.
My impression, after two meetings, is that the group has put aside their own stakeholder perspectives and understands the greater benefit NMVTIS has to making our communities safer. They are now continuing to educate each other and move towards common ground, as they represent the interests of their stakeholder groups, in looking at ways to make this system more viable. Funding is a key area of concern, increasing the ability of the system to fund its operations while reducing the costs of stakeholders. Our goal is to enhance the value of NMVTIS if we can identify a means to do so.
AR: You are with the Miami-Dade Special Patrol Bureau. What is your role there? What does it focus on?
Terp: My previous assignment as the commander of the Task Force introduced me to NMVTIS. My years as a law enforcement officer (since 1976) allowed me to see the value of NMVTIS. In my current assignment my responsibilities include most of the specialized units for the Department (K9, Bomb Disposal Unit, Tactical Units-SRT, Incident Management Team, Aviation Unit, Marine Patrol, Motorcycle Unit, Dignitary Protection Unit, and Special Events Unit).
Although I no longer am involved with the investigation of organized crime groups and/or international and domestic auto theft investigations, there remains a clear nexus to NMVTIS and its value is just as important. My units are responsible for planning, responding to, and managing special events and critical incidents. We rely on intelligence for our planning and during our operations. Our concerns for threats against events or dignitaries from terrorist groups or lone wolfs have never been higher. The ability to check and clear vehicles is one of our concerns.
During the 2010 Super Bowl in Miami, we had the responsibility for the coordination and overall security planning and operations. Clearing all vehicles within the designated security zones and checking vehicles in adjoining non-secure areas was critical. In fact, on the day of the Super Bowl, we had a vehicle on the terrorism watch list identified within one mile of the stadium.
Criminals and terrorists have learned that stolen vehicles, and more so altered-stolen vehicles, make it more difficult for law enforcement to identify the vehicles they are utilizing for transportation, surveillance activities, and as weapons. This is seen worldwide from the Ireland to Spain to the Middle East to North America. NMVTIS reduces the ability for anyone to clone vehicles and alter their identification that may prevent a terrorist act or assist us in stopping further acts after an initial incident.
AR: As a law enforcement officer, what are the things the United States needs to do to fight vehicle crime, knowing how large the network is and its international scope?
Terp: One of the problems we have in law enforcement is that we can be myopic. We are looking only at what we specifically are charged with doing and not realizing the importance other activities might play in helping us. An example is the bank robbery detective trying to solve his cases. He might not realize that an auto theft investigation can help him solve his crime. Many subjects robbing banks utilize stolen vehicles for their initial escape before abandoning the vehicle. An auto theft investigation may lead authorities to a person stealing cars and supplying them to a bank robbery suspect. This though has led to the development of FUSION centers [to exchange information among law enforcement agencies] across the country. Some were created to specifically deal with terrorism and intelligence, but we are seeing a growing number realize the all crimes approach that will tie in more leads. This will help auto theft investigations as there frequently is crossover from some involved with cargo theft, other economic crimes, narcotics cases, and gun smuggling.
A central part of the intelligence aspect of identifying criminal activity is the databases and the links to access them. NMVTIS is a key system for law enforcement involving vehicles.
AR: What way can the U.S. law enforcement help fight the international aspect of this crime, especially related to the salvage industry, with salvage cars leaving the country for their VINs or for other criminal purposes?
Terp: We have laws, regulations, and systems in place now that could be better utilized. Unfortunately, the vehicle and parts export enforcement is not at the high end of priorities for law enforcement at the federal, state, or local levels. At the Miami-Dade Police Department, we did make it a priority and had significant results. The statistics in 1995 showed the Miami metropolitan area ranked as number one for stolen vehicles in the country, a dubious distinction. We knew with our location as a port city that the export of stolen vehicles and parts was playing a significant part in our high theft rate.
The Task Force started addressing the export problem, first by having investigators concentrate cases on export related activity. A special funding source was identified and this became crucial to addressing the export issue. It allowed investigators to work the cases, no matter where the leads took them, to get the tools and technology they needed and the training. It helped develop a pilot program for the electronic reporting of all vehicles being exported from Miami. This system utilizes a batch delivery of all vehicles (VINs) to be exported to be sent for a comparison of databases of salvage, prior export, thefts, leases, and non-conforming. This allowed Task Force investigators the ability to reduce over 200-300 vehicles being exported to about 15-25 that needed to be physically inspected. This successful program was expanded to 70 other ports.
Then we started utilizing gamma ray systems to scan all of the containers leaving the Port of Miami to see which ones had unreported vehicles or vehicle parts inside. This allowed investigators to identify stolen vehicles and parts being exported and to conduct follow-up investigations.
Law enforcement managers at all levels of government continue to struggle with smaller budgets, personnel, and resources. Issues like the exportation problem can have better results where law enforcement, other governmental entities, and private industry can work together.
AR: Any other thoughts you may have?
Terp: Since 1996, NMVTIS struggled as we did not have key people with a true understanding and a passion for what it could mean. In 2005, its funding almost ran out. Thankfully it was saved. Now we have a very good team that I feel is inspired to make NMVTIS all it can be. I look forward to working with the Advisory Board recommending ways to make it better.
AR: Thank you.
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