A SPECIAL police taskforce has been set up to fight a significant rise in car thefts in the northern suburbs.

Taskforce Rio will investigate whether gangland figures are involved in the multi-million-dollar crime, in which 6645 cars were stolen in the past year in the north-west region.

Commander Jeff Forti, head of Taskforce Rio, said almost a third of the cars were not recovered. “There were more than 2000 cars that just disappeared off the face of the earth.”

The taskforce will investigate car thefts in Whittlesea, Hume, Brimbank, Moreland and the Melbourne city.

The latest police statistics show that car theft in the City of Whittlesea alone jumped more than 50 per cent in a year with 721 cars reported stolen.

“About half of all the cars stolen in a year are stolen in the north-west region,” Commander Forti said. “The taskforce will look at whether car theft involves organised crime, general crime or joyriders. Where there’s money, there is organised crime.”