Jeff Humphrey, Media Content Coordinator, 509.625.6308
Thursday, August 23, 2018 at 10:55 a.m.
It’s a Top-10 list Spokane has been trying to get off of for years.
For the first time in a long time, the City is no longer ranked as a national hot spot for auto theft.
“You know it’s exciting to see the work we’ve been putting in, the investment we’ve been putting in, is starting to pay off,” said Spokane mayor David Condon.
In 2016, the National Insurance Crime Bureau pegged Spokane with having the 11th highest car theft rate in the country.
But in the latest NICB report, Spokane has fallen to the 36th position.
One reason our cars are now safer from thieves is better technology.
Several of the Spokane Police Department’s patrol cars are outfitted with license plate readers that scan the roadways for stolen vehicles.
“As soon as the plate is entered into the system, the alert comes back. It’s almost instantaneous,” officer Dan Cole said of his special equipment.
The plate reader allows Ofc. Cole to locate a lot of stolen cars, but if you were to ask him why Spokane auto theft is down 5.85 percent from this time last year, Cole credit’s the police department’s Patrol Anti-Crime Team, otherwise known as PACT.
“It was involved in a vehicle prowling up at Spokane Falls Community College,” PACT Sgt. Kurt Vigesaa says of a white Ford Explorer he is about to pull over on Division Street.
“My team focuses on active offenders and with active offenders, their mode of transportation is often stolen vehicles,” explains Vigesaa.
The guy behind the wheel of the Explorer tries to conceal his identity by handing Vigesaa a state ID card.
Dispatchers advise Vigesaa the ID belongs to someone who’s been dead for several years.
So the driver was arrested on a criminal impersonation charge and once he was handcuffed, PACT officers found a piece of burnt aluminum foil, heroin residue on the suspect’s knife and needle marks on his arm.
The team concludes the man is addicted to illegal drugs; the driving force behind Spokane’s auto theft problem.
“That’s it in a nutshell. 95 percent of it, or more, are criminals are using stolen vehicles to commit other crimes and to make money to support their drug habit,” Vigesaa said.
That’s why last year Spokane Neighborhood Cop Shops were handing out free locking devices to the owners of the older cars most likely to be stolen.
That’s why the PACT Team is getting a warrant to search the Explorer that appears to be full of stolen back-packs.
“So we are going to verify that this car is not stolen and then you’ve got some sort of funky ignition system where you are more of less hot-wiring it,” the sergeant told a different driver Vigesaa pulled over in West Central Spokane.
Unfortunately, the PACT team can’t be everywhere, so it’s still up to the rest of us to lock our cars and don’t leave them running outside places like convenience stores.
One out of every three vehicles stolen here in Spokane had the keys left somewhere inside the vehicle or the owner made a bad decision about who they allowed to “borrow” their car.
“Your active offenders are driving around 24 hours a day constantly looking for that opportunity,” Vigesaa warned.
The PACT Team is constantly recovering rings of shaved keys. Thieves file down door and ignition keys so they can be used to steal older model cars that have worn down tumblers in their locks.
Vigesaa says if you’re driving an older car, you might want to take extra steps to protect your vehicle.
“Look what’s on the wheel here. One of the most commonly stolen cars and, good for them. That’s why it’s not getting stolen,” Vigesaa said as he pointed to a steering wheel lock on an older Honda Accord.
Mayor Condon is also pushing for a change in state law that would require that property crimes crooks be monitored by corrections after they are convicted.
That’s because a lot of offenders celebrate their new-found freedom by returning to their cycle of drug addiction and theft.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve been pushing on bill for supervision of property crimes. In particular, vehicle thefts. We hope this year will be that year that the legislature partners with us in really combating an issue that has plagued our community for quite some time,” Condon said hopefully.