Fresno police are reporting a disturbing trend in the city's long-running war against car thieves: Imprisoned criminals are getting out quickly and teaching their skills to younger gang members.
Sgt. Tim Tietjen of the department's Career Criminal Auto Theft Team believes that may be one reason why there have been 880 vehicle thefts this year, compared to 870 at this time in 2012. There were 1,400 thefts at this time in 2011.
The trend was put in sharp relief Wednesday when police arrested 21-year-old Reuben Molano. A year ago, Molano was arrested as he prepared to rob a gas station in central Fresno, police said. He was caught with gloves and a mask.
Tietjen said Molano served nine months and was out on the streets under terms of the "realignment" program that shifts the responsibility over many inmates from California to its counties.
This week, Molano was one of eight people arrested at a home near Inyo and Barton avenues in southeast Fresno. Seven were later released before they could be charged with other crimes. Reuben Molano
Police say that while he was trying to elude officers, Molano drove a vehicle in reverse, hitting an occupied patrol car. The officer was not injured. It wasn't the first time Molano has assaulted an officer, Tietjen said. He reportedly ran over an officer's foot on another occasion.
"This is definitely frustrating," Tietjen said. "You arrest a guy and he pops back up. It's like starting over ... after the effort we put into it.
"They're recycling," he said of car thieves, who also are believed to be involved in other crimes such as drug dealing and home invasions.
Just as troubling were remarks the sergeant said he heard from Molano: "I want to be just like Tino Tufono," Tietjen said Molano told him.
Tufono, 32, was one of the city's top auto thieves in 2011. He was sought for the assault of a woman and the shooting death of Paul Ramirez, 25, the next day. Before he was taken into custody in December 2011, police say Tufono vowed to kill the first officer he came across.
Tietjen said Molano said he wanted to teach his auto-stealing skills to younger members of the Bulldog gang.