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Popularity of using rental cars in crimes continues

By Keri Kirby
kerikirby@gannett.com

April 30, 2005 - Most people who walk into a rental car company are looking for reliable transportation for business, vacation or to help them out in a pinch. For some, however, a trip to the rental car lot is a search for the perfect getaway vehicle.

Over the past several years, car rental companies and law enforcement agencies have watched the growing trend of people using rental vehicles during the commission of crimes.

"I've seen it go on in the last eight years or so. And I've seen an increase in it in the last three years," said Terry Milam, one of the owners of Shreveport's U-Save Auto Rentals. "It's definitely a concern of ours."

Whether its drivers using the cars to commit crimes or people illegally allowing others not listed on the rental agreement to drive, Milam said unauthorized drivers cost his business $25,000 to $50,000 a year.

Criminals have been known to use rental cars to commit nearly every type of crime, but they're most often used to transport drugs, law enforcement officials say.

"You can go to any rental lot in any city and run a (drug-sniffing) canine in there and the dog will hit on any car there," said Shreveport police Sgt. B.K. Hall, a narcotics unit supervisor. "And in our experience in the dope trade, the person driving the car is not going to be the one authorized to drive the car."

And if they get caught, they don't have to worry about police seizing any of their property, Hall said.

State police Sgt. Don Campbell has been watching drugs travel area interstates for more than 15 years. During that time, he's seen much of those drugs packed in rental cars. "In narcotics arrests, we probably have 25 percent of them using rental vehicles."

While most drug traffickers won't go to extreme measures to modify a rented vehicle to make concealing drugs easier, they don't just throw it in the trunk either, Campbell said.

"They'll cut out foam sections in the seats to place their bundle of drugs in. Or they'll put it in the bumpers or gas tanks. Any natural concealment area in the vehicle."

And when it comes to the most popular car to rent when trafficking drugs, Campbell said bigger is better.

"They're really not worried about fuel economy. They're worried about comfort during a long trip and having areas that are large enough to put their quantity of drugs in."

Recently, a Shreveport detective arrested a shoplifter responsible for stealing about $20,000 worth of clothing and other retail items from several local stores, including Mall St. Vincent, and using a rental car to flee one of the scenes. "Someone gave us a tag on the vehicle he got into and we found out the car had been rented," Detective Dean Willis said.

Luckily, the woman who rented the car listed the shoplifting suspect as one of the other drivers on the rental agreement. Police were able to track him down using that information.

But that's not always the case. Usually the person committing the crime won't rent the car in their name to make it harder for police to connect them to the crime, Willis said.

Criminals often will ask family members or friends to rent a car for them in exchange for money or gifts. Often after the crime was committed, the car will falsely be reported as stolen by the person in whose name the vehicle was rented in an effort to protect the criminal, Willis said.

"If someone asks you to rent a car for them, it's usually because they can't do it themselves or they have the intent to commit a crime."

 

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