Washington County sees spike in vehicle thefts
Washington County hasn't escaped the trend of increased car thefts, which have swept through the Portland metro area and other parts of the country.
The increases seem to be a mostly urban problem, with rural areas of the county not seeing as many spikes in the number of vehicles that are reported stolen year-to-year.
In Hillsboro, vehicle thefts tracked by the Hillsboro Police Department have increased by more than 50% since 2012.
The largest single-year count of theft cases was just last year, with 264 known cases. The year with the largest increase in stolen vehicles was in 2016, when 184 vehicles were reported stolen compared to 124 the previous year.
"This trend is similar to other agencies in the Portland metro area," the Hillsboro Police Department said in a statement about the data. "As a police agency tasked with preventing and deterring crime along with arresting those committing these crimes, (there) are a few steps we are taking to prevent, deter, and stop these crimes."
Those steps include additional detectives committed to investigating property crimes, including vehicle thefts. The agency also works closely with other police departments and jurisdictions around the area and even out of the state, since car thieves tend to flee the immediate area with their stolen property.
Like other police agencies, local police departments use the LoJack system to track vehicles that are stolen and have been installed with the tracking software.
Just like its neighboring communities, Beaverton has seen a steady increase in vehicle thefts during recent years, according to data from the Beaverton Police Department.
In the past decade, the city's largest increase in vehicle thefts was in 2017, when thefts jumped almost 80% from the year before. Beaverton has seen yearly increases since, with the exception of a 14% decrease in 2019.
In 2021, the yearly count of vehicle thefts reached 359 in Beaverton, or an increase of 47% since the previous year.
The number of thefts in 2021 was almost triple the amount from 2016.
Beaverton's vehicle theft data increased steadily dating back to 2013, when the city saw just 84 thefts in a year. The city used a different type of data to measure thefts before 2016, so the exact number may not be consistent with the current Uniform Crime Reporting system.
Beaverton police spokesperson Matthew Henderson said he attributes the recent increase in vehicle thefts in the area to the pandemic.
"It's part of what COVID has done to our communities," he said. "You've got a bevy of reasons why crimes are up. But you know, people are going through hard times right now. Inflation's high, vehicles are more expensive, catalytic converters are more expensive. There's people that lost work."
On the point of catalytic converters, Henderson said that many vehicles are stolen for this valuable metal component specifically. Many of the cars are just dumped once the part is cut out, he said.
With the increasing price of valuable metals used in catalytic converters, there has been an uptick in demand on the black market.
In Tigard, police saw significant increases in car thefts coming right out of the shoot this year.
"We have had a 190% increase from January of 2021 to this January, when we've had a record high of 32 stolen vehicles for the month of January 2022 alone," Chief Kathy McAlpine told the Tigard City Council in February.
That compared to only 11 for the same time period in January 2021.
"Of those 32 stolen, what we do know is that these are generally older-model vehicles, and they're throughout the city, so they're not in any clustered or pattern areas," McAlpine said.
In some cases, it's thieves who have come out of Portland, abandon their stolen vehicles in Tigard and then steal another car while in the city, police say.
Police found most of the thefts didn't appear to be a situation where a resident was simply warming up their car in the morning and a thief jumped in and took off.
McAlpine said the good news is that Tigard police recovered 14 vehicles inside the city limits in January, 11 of them stolen out of Portland.
"Conversely, we know that 14 of our stolen vehicles have been recovered in Portland. So, I think you can see the common theme there," she said. "Of the seven arrests that we've made for stolen vehicles, all seven people are associated (with) drugs."
Those Tigard car theft trends continued in both February (21 stolen this year compared to only nine last year) and March (26 stolen in 2022, 11 in 2021).
Asked by a Tigard City Council member what could be done to prevent car theft, McAlpine responded: "Obviously, something like The Club is very helpful with the steering wheel. I'd definitely recommend that."
The Club is a brand name for the anti-theft steering wheel lock, which secures a vehicle's steering column so that thieves cannot drive away with it. Police say that the mere presence of such a device can go a long way toward deterring theft.
Washington County trends
Finally, data collected from the Washington County Sheriff's Office shows that this increase is largely an urban trend.
In 2010 and 2021, the same number of vehicle thefts were reported in the rural areas of the county — those that are patrolled by the agency, anyway— at 34 reported thefts. Compare that to the urban patrol areas, which saw a much steeper increase.
In 2010, there were 155 vehicle theft cases reported in the urban patrol areas of Washington County. Up to last year, that number has ballooned to more than 400.
The data also show a steep increase from 2019 reported thefts and 2020 thefts, jumping from 269 cases to 385.
The agency uses similar measures as described by other police to crack down on vehicle thefts.
The Sheriff's Office even plants dummy vehicles out in areas around the county, which are bait for would-be car thieves. They are equipped with a GPS system that police can use to track the stolen vehicle. The dummies are also often loaded with valuables to entice thieves, and even these items are stocked with tracking devices.
Sheriff Pat Garrett uses his own anti-theft measures in his personal vehicle, though he declined to specify which ones to minimize his own risk. He encourages members of the public to do the same.
Best practices include rolling up all windows and locking your doors, as well as parking your vehicle in a secure and well-lit location. The agency also recommends removing any valuables from the cabin.
If you are the victim of a vehicle theft — or have valuables stolen from inside your vehicle — you should report it to your local police immediately.
"One of the most important things to do is having any kind of report taken when someone is a crime victim," said Washington County Sgt. Danny DiPietro. "When we know those areas where this is happening, yes, we absolutely will increase patrols. We put vehicle out there that are intentionally put out with GPS in them … and we put them in places where we know car thefts are spiking."
Victims can report crimes over the phone, online or in-person at local police stations, or by having officers dispatched to the location of the crime.
"We try to make it as easy as possible, because we want people to be reporting these to us," DiPietro said.
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