12/17/2013 11:31 EST | Updated 02/16/2014 05:59 EST

Vancouver police target thieves of wheelchair vehicles

The Vancouver Police Department has launched a new program to combat thieves who are stealing adapted vans from people with disabilities.

"Operation Keep Safe" offers a free immobilizer and installation from the VPD for Vancouver residents who rely on such specially equipped vehicles.

Police say that about half a dozen wheelchair vehicles have been stolen in Metro Vancouver so far this year.

While the number may not sound like a lot, the cost to the victims is significant: in addition to the financial burden of having to spend, on average, $40,000 to replace the adaptive equipment, there is the loss of mobility for people who rely on their vehicles for daily living.

“A lot of people can't ride transit, and a long ride in a taxi is really expensive,” said Terry Leblanc, who has a spinal cord injury and is one of those whose special van is being equipped with an immobilizer.

"It's a piece of our mobility. When it's missing, you're really in a tough spot."

Operation Keep Safe follows on the heels of an October campaign called Operation Lock Up.

That program saw police giving out free steering wheel locks to Vancouverites who own one of the top 10 most frequently stolen cars.

Two months in, police say they have given away 600 locks and have seen a 23 per cent reduction in auto theft.