LAWRENCE — It was a fairly typical report on a recent morning: a stolen car reportedly left on a side street, its interior completely stripped.
“All that’s left is the steering wheel,” the responding officer said over the police radio.
Towed by Sheehan’s to a storage lot off Merrimack Street in South Lawrence, the green Honda Civic looked relatively unscathed from the outside. But in reality, the exterior of the car was just a shell, since the seats and much of the rest of the interior had been removed by car thieves.
The steering column was torn apart so they could jump-start the car. The only thing in the cabin aside from an air-freshener and some other household debris, was an overturned white bucket, used by the thieves as a seat to drive the car to a drop-off point after they were done stripping it.
Mike Cyr of Sheehan’s Towing said the company tows an average of 10 to 15 stolen cars a week in Lawrence, like the one abandoned on Lea Street last week.
“I’d say two to five of them are completely stripped - interiors, doors, fenders, wheels - while the rest just have ignition damage or just a couple of parts missing,” said Cyr, who’s been working for the tow company about 15 years. “Ten years ago, it was a lot worse.”
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said that the number of stolen cars in Lawrence went up after a round of police layoffs.
In July 2010, the city was forced to lay off 40 police officers due to budget cuts, and Romero had to eliminate the department’s special operations units. Crime in all categories, including stolen cars, spiked as all the officers on the force were put in a “reactive” mode instead of “proactive, crime-fighting” mode, Romero said recently.