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100 percent rise in car theft an ‘anomaly’
Port Orchard’s police department hopes the large increase in car thefts around the city last year was an anomaly.
Geoffrey Marti, the Port Orchard Police Department’s Commander, said a spike in thefts of older model Hondas, Toyotas and vans were part of a brief crime trend largely attributed to thieves researching car theft on the Internet. Through that, first-time car thieves learned how to break into older-model cars, how to grind keys and access other vulnerabilities in the cars.
Marti said after a couple of months, most of the thieves, many of whom were first-time offenders, were caught.
“Crime trends can spread more quickly now because of the Internet,” Marti said. “Numbers take a dramatic change in a short period of time. Somebody can become a great thief overnight.”
Regardless of the local trend, Hondas and Toyotas have long topped the list of the most stolen cars across the country.
Port Orchard residents reported 76 motor vehicle thefts in 2011, up from 38 in 2010. This 100 percent increase in car thefts is outside of statewide numbers, where car thefts fell 4.8 percent over the year.
Marti said 1990s model Honda Accords, Honda Civics and other older-model foreign cars were prime targets for car thefts in Port Orchard.
Outside of those cars, numbers on theft remained largely the same. Marti said he expects numbers to fall again this year.
“Although you may see a drastic change in statistics, we need to look deeper at what is going on,” he said.
Marti said the police department is keeping an eye on car thefts. Apartment complexes around town were some of the hardest hit areas for car theft because criminals often can walk around the parking lots and not look suspicious, he said.
Kelly Kjostab, a resident of Arbor Terrace Apartments on Sidney Avenue, owns an older model Dodge Caravan. Owning one of the top 10 most-stolen cars, Kjostab said she was aware of car thefts and break-ins, and tries to remain vigilant about protecting her car. She always locks her car and tries to park in a nearby covered area where she can keep watch on her vehicle.
“We have three dogs who bark at everything,” she said.
Taking simple steps such as taking the keys out of the ignition, locking the doors and parking in a well-lit area are the best deterrents against car theft, Marti said.
Many newer model cars have built in security systems such as On-Star and LoJack that are a great help in recovering a stolen car, he said.
As the police department’s coverage area grows to serve the newly annexed area along the Bethel corridor and officer resources are stretched, Marti said informal neighborhood watch groups could go a long way in protecting citizens against car thefts and other crimes.
Fran Olin, a resident of Tracy Avenue, said she and other area residents got together last year after a car break-in to discuss a watch program. The group sought steps to prevent crime, and have also broached areas of emergency preparedness for their area. The collective communicates about vacation times, package delivery and just generally watches over the neighborhood, keeping an eye for anything suspicious, she said.
“If each of us takes some ownership in the neighborhood it’s a win-win situation,” Olin said.
Ultimatly, Marti said its hard to stop car thieves entirely if they really want to break into a single car, especially when stealing a car can take as little as a couple of minutes. He encouraged individuals to research their own car’s vulnerabilities, especially if it’s an older-model ride.
“Think about how secure the car is, and how to make it more secure,” he said.