The threat of cars being stolen from in front of homes in Stanislaus County, the auto theft capital of the nation, prompted residents to show up at the Modesto Police Department early Thursday to get free steering wheel locks.
The giveaway began at 7:30 a.m., and all 320 of the devices the police department had were gone by 11.
The Stanislaus County Auto Theft Task Force provided the funding for the devices to help in its fight to curtail vehicle thefts, said Sgt. Brian Findlen, a spokesman for Modesto police. The task force is coordinating giveaways at other law enforcement agencies in the county this month.
Recipients had to provide a valid registration card to prove they live in Stanislaus County and own one of the county's eight most frequently stolen vehicles, with an emphasis on 2003 or older models: Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Nissan Sentra, Acura Integra, Chevrolet/GMC pickups and SUVs, Toyota pickups and Ford Mustang.
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Findlen said about 50 people were waiting in line for police to start checking their paperwork and hand out steering wheel locks Thursday morning. A table was set up outside the police department at 600 10th St.
One of those taking advantage of the giveaway was Mark Huerta of Modesto, whose Honda Accord was stolen from in front of his house. The car was recovered but destroyed by fire.
"I have another car and a car payment. That really hurts," he said. "This is another layer of protection."
Reggie Burnette, who lives in Ceres and works in Modesto, said he got his wheel lock to protect his investment in the Honda he rebuilt and save on his insurance. "Because of where I live," he said, "the insurance company said I could get a discount if I got one of these."
For Sara and Gabriel Suarez of Modesto, Thursday's giveaway was a chance to protect their property. "There are a lot of (car) thefts in our neighborhood," Sara Suarez said. "We work hard for our cars and then people come along and want to take them. Maybe this will stop them."
Findlen said that's what law enforcement is hoping.
The Turlock Police Department will be giving away wheel locks at its open house Saturday, set from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 900 N. Palm St. For information about when other agencies in the county will be giving away wheel locks, residents are urged to contact their local law enforcement offices.
Bee city editor David W. Hill can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2336.