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It's just a yellow and green decal, but police are hoping it scares would-be car thieves into a new line of work.

The triangular sticker is meant to do more than adorn the rear window of an automobile. It's the key component of Operation Safe Car, the latest effort to combat auto thefts by the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department.The stickers tell police the car's owner is a participant in the program and has signed a contract authorizing officers to stop the car for any reason between the hours of 1 and 5 a.m.

The sheriff's office began enrolling people in the program earlier this month at displays in two local shopping malls. One of those who signed up was Anne-Louise Frantz.

"We heard about it at dinner with some friends," said Frantz, 26. "They'd seen it at the mall and mentioned it to us."

Auto theft is something Frantz's mother was concerned about, so they took a trip to the Cottonwood Mall. After getting more information about the program, they signed up.

"Both of our cars are on the top-10 list (of most common stolen cars in Utah)," Frantz said.

She said she had no reservations about authorizing police to stop her car for no reason between 1 and 5 a.m.

"I'm usually not out (driving) then," she said.

The four-hour time frame was selected for just that reason, according to deputy sheriffs.

"(Most people) are home in bed, and they hope their cars are, too," detective Ken Davis said. If the car is out, he said, "it's probably in the hands of someone who shouldn't have it."

The participants' consent means police can pull a car over "just because."

"Normally, you'd (the driver) have to break the law; we'd have to have a reason (to stop a car)," Davis said.

Sgt. Jack Dwyer said the point is not to catch car thieves, it's to prevent them from stealing cars. The decals not only authorize police to stop a car, they warn a thief that "they're more likely to get caught," Davis said.

How big a problem is auto theft? The sheriff's office says if it were a business, auto theft would be the 58th largest company on the Fortune 500 list, with annual sales of $8.8 billion nationally.

One third of the cost of auto insurance comprehensive coverage premiums goes to pay for auto theft claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

The recovery rate nationally for stolen cars is 62 percent. The average cost of vehicles stolen was $4,940 in 1994."Auto theft is not a victimless crime, as it has been viewed in the past," a flier from the sheriff's office said. "The old term of `joy riding' should be purged from the legal language. Auto theft holds no joy for its victims."

Those interested in more information or in participating in the program can call the sheriff's auto theft office at 535-5295 or take their vehicles to any sheriff's substation between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.


Additional Information

Thieves' top 10

Vehicles most likely to be stolen in Utah:

1. Honda Accord

2. Oldsmobile Cutlass

3. Chevy half-ton pickup

4. Toyota Camry

5. Chevrolet Blazer

6. Honda Civic

7. Ford Mustang

8. Toyota Corolla

9. Chevrolet Caprice

10. Oldsmobile Delta 88

Source: Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office