Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Origins of the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB)

Hi folks, a bit from my Stealing Cars: Technology and Society from the Model T to Gran Torino (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014).
National Insurance Crime Bureau's File Card System for Stolen Cars, ca. 1950s?

A Hot Sheet from 1921

Losses became so great that two years later, in 1912, the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB) was established as an arm of the National Automobile Underwriters Conference. Supported by member insurance companies, the NATB resulted in a private police force and a nationwide information bureau that overlapped with governmental authorities.16 NATB personnel trained police officers and encouraged the standardization of stolen car information. And contrary to the assertions that the auto industry neglected the auto theft problem, in a contentious reorganization of the NATB in 1926, A.C. Anderson, General Motors’ General Comptroller, forcefully brokered the unification of regional insurance interests into what emerged as national agency.17

            The relationship between the NATB and local police was often tenuous, since the boundary between private and public was being crossed. With a wealth of expertise in matters related to automobile identification and the methods of criminals, NATB agents educated local police with little direct knowledge in these matters, and were active in the establishment of dedicated auto theft investigative units within police departments.18 Yet just as the police from time to time did not escape charges of lack of motivation and corruption, insurance personnel also were subject to the temptation to personally profit from stolen cars. For example, in 1914 a chauffeur and an insurance adjuster, working together, were accused of making a small fortune in the business of hot cars.19

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