LAS VEGAS - Police are proposing the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles do more to help catch car thieves, as the rate of auto thefts in Clark County climbs to about five times the national average.
Police are asking the Legislature to require the DMV to verify that cars are not stolen when they're registered with the state, in part because the agency registered dozens of such vehicles last year.
"We have talked to the DMV. While they think it is a problem, they don't have the capacity of running the vehicle (through a stolen vehicle computer database) before they register it," said Stan Olsen, executive director of the department's intergovernmental affairs division.
DMV officials haven't studied the proposal, but it would pose a problem if the process of checking for stolen cars caused additional delays at already crowded DMV offices, agency spokesman Tom Jacobs said.
"With all we have done in the past few years to shorten lines and speed up transactions, anything that negates that progress, we are going to be concerned with," Jacobs said. "To have something that causes us to step backward is something we are going to look very closely at."
In 2002, the DMV registered 165 stolen cars, according to Olsen, and the department has no way of stopping the problem from continuing.
One car was stolen for roughly every 100 residents in the Las Vegas area last year. That is the fourth-highest theft rate among 336 cities surveyed nationwide in an insurance industry study released earlier this month.
To counter the rise, police in February began working with prosecutors to crack down on repeat offenders. Last month, police reviewed more than 2,000 suspects, identifying 365 as repeater offenders targeted for "enhanced" prosecution. Of those, 266 are still in custody.
But police say they also need help from the state DMV, which is not connected to the National Crime Information Center database, which tracks auto thefts.
DMV officials said employees are required to take annual training in identifying fraudulent documents like car titles. They are also required to match the vehicle identification number on each newly registered vehicle with those on the title and other ownership documents.
But police say without accessing the national database, DMV staffers don't know some cars have been stolen.
"If you are willing to pay the fees and taxes associated with that car, we will pretty much register the car," said Jacobs, the DMV spokesman. "It's not like getting a driver's license."