The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office has joined with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, the Mansfield Police Department and the Burleson Police Department to form the Tri-County Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Task Force.

The task force will focus on reducing auto burglaries and thefts through enforcement and public education.

“We were approached a little over a year ago about participating in the Tri-County Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Task Force. The application was made through the city of Mansfield and that time it was rejected. This year, another application was turned in and it was accepted,” Ellis County Sheriff Johnny Brown said.

“The task force will be managed though the city of Mansfield Police Department,” he said. “They are providing the office space for it. It will be a collective effort of auto theft investigators. Our representative will be investigator Glen Smith, who is already trained in that area.”

Brown said the task force will work in conjunction with regional agencies that need additional assistance with investigations and public education. Grants from the Texas Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Authority are funding the task force. The grant period begins Sept. 1 and runs through Aug. 31.

Brown will serve as the president of the board of governors that oversees the operations of the task force.

One of the major functions of the group, other than conducting investigations, is to provide information to the public to help prevent such offenses.

Residents in the task force area will see signage and promotional materials focusing on “Hide, Lock and Take” to encourage residents to hide valuables out of sight in their vehicle, lock their vehicles and take their keys with them.

Mansfield Police Chief and task force board member Gary Fowler said it’s “easy to forget about a laptop laying on the seat, leaving a camera behind or forgetting to put away a portable GPS.” The goal is to reduce auto burglaries and theft by 10 percent by investigating crimes and public outreach, he said.

Statistics compiled in the uniformed crime reporting system from the four participating agencies reflect 283 stolen vehicles in 2009 and 265 stolen vehicles in 2010. The task force hopes to impact the number of vehicles stolen the remainder of 2011 and into 2012. Prior estimates indicated the area was on pace to see 270 stolen vehicles in 2011.

“We are really looking forward to participating in this. We think that it is going to be good to have a collective unit coming together to specialize in this area,” Brown said.

General messages can be left for the Tri-County Auto Burglary and Theft Prevention Task Force at 682-518-9242 or by email at tricounty@mansfield-tx.gov. Confidential tips can be left at 682-518-9242 or by email at tricounty.tips@mansfield-tx.gov.

The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office can is located at 300 S. Jackson St. in Waxahachie and can be reached at 972-825-4901.

For more information about the task force, go to http://mansfieldtx.gov/ps/police/prevention/autotheft.php

Contact Andrew at andrew.branca@wninews.com or 469-517-1451.