Neighbors: 'Stolen car ring in transient camp'
When the topic of stolen vehicles comes up, most Portlanders shrug it off as a crime that happens to "someone else", in some other neighborhood. And most would agree that the Reed neighborhood is considered to be a safe, quiet residential area, with little crime.
That's what Robyn Crummer-Olson, a Portland resident since 2001, thought when her family moved into that neighborhood twenty years ago. She now thinks differently â€“ and sent her complaints, with photographs, to THE BEE and other media outlets, and copied the Portland Police Bureau.
THE BEE has received many complaints and comments about crimes in the recent past, but many were not documented, and some relied on the dubious accuracy of social media for the facts alleged. This one was different: Robyn was specific, was herself a repeated victim, and provided solid documentation. We responded, to discuss with her the problem she was alleging.
"Our family has experienced three vehicle thefts during the past 15 weeks," Crummer-Olson told us. "Most recently, on September 13, criminals smashed the driver's-side window of our 2006 Honda Element, and they were using another car to push it away down the street when I came out and yelled at them â€“ causing them to speed away.
"I drove down to S.E. 28th and Raymond Street with a friend,Â and I saw a car which appeared to be the same one I saw pushing my Element earlier that day," Crummer-Olson went on. "And, our 2000 Honda CRV has been stolen twice in the past 15 weeks â€“ plus another time back in 2017. We have recoveredÂ it ourselves each time, with the assistance of 'NextDoor' posts and vigilantÂ neighbors."
The first time it was stolen, the CRV sustained $1,500 damage, she said â€“ the car had been stripped of its battery, its catalytic converter, and its exhaust system. Most recently, she added, it was dumped near S.E. 157th Avenue at Division Street in Outer East Portland stripped of its battery, and with a ruined ignition switch.
She reported these crimes to the Portland Police Bureau, and an officer responded to take her stolen-vehicle report each time. She says she is concerned about the transient encampment that occupies both sides of S.E. Raymond Street from 26th to 28th Avenues, where she says she has repeatedly observed what she believes are men stripping vehicles for parts.
Another "parking lot" for stolen vehicles, she alleges, is along S.E. Colt Street, just east of 28th Avenue. "I've witnessed men arriving with cars having no license plates, parking them, rifling through them, pulling parts, and then leaving," Crummer-Olson told THE BEE.
"I e-mailed the NRT officer, writing how I believe that these people are processing stolen vehicles in broad daylight with no consequences, and wondering how to get anybody else to care or do anything about it." She did get a response. The Central Precinct Neighborhood Response Officer told her:
"That sedan [you reported seeing] is a regular at that camp, and so are most of the vehicles located there, unfortunately. I try to go through the area twice a day to check for any new vehicles that pop up, and run license plates and VIN numbers to check for stolen vehicles. We did recover a stolen vehicle there last week, and ran some VINs to make sure there were not any more stolen vehicles left behind.
"The Police Bureau is not allowed to move campers/camps any longer. The City entity that is now responsible for doing that is called One Point of Contact. If you go to their website it will give you several different ways to file a report to get them to respond to see if it fits their protocols for cleanup. I know it has been cleaned up several times before, but they just move to a new block.
"I will continue to go through the area, as will the district Officers, to check for stolen vehicles."
Checking the PPB's "Crime Statistics" webpage, we gathered the following information:
Vehicle Theft, Year to Date, ending July, 2021:
Mt. Scott-Arleta 36
A car theft is far more to the victim than just a crime statistic, Crummer-Olson stated. "I feel really violated, intruded upon, and unsafe.
"They stole the Honda my daughter drives, just before her first day going back to Cleveland High School; that car is how she gets to her job, and to after-school activities, too.
"And, I've had to spend countless hours tracking down and recovering our own stolen cars, filing insurance claims, working with a mechanic â€“ repeatedly! â€“ within the last 15 weeks."
Why thieves can get away with auto theft
We asked PPB Public Information Officer Carlos Ibarra why it is so difficult to arrest vehicle thieves, even when they are actually caught in the act.
"In a stolen vehicle investigation in Oregon, the investigating officer must have 'probable cause' to believeÂ the suspect was aware that the vehicle was being driven without permission from the owner," Ibarra informed us â€“ not just driving a vehicle that had been reported stolen, which is usually enough in many other states.
Officer Ibarra didn't comment on this, but according to Oregon court rulings, even a smashed window and a screwdriver jammed in the ignition, in and of itself, is not enough to prove "probable cause".
"Proving itÂ can be accomplished through various investigative techniques, which varyÂ depending on theÂ circumstances," Ibarra continued. "If officers cannotÂ reach the threshold that is required by law, the subject cannot be charged with that crime."
When told about Oregon's "probable cause" rules for vehicle thefts, Crummer-Olson looked exasperated as she replied, "I can't claim to know about how this works. What it comes down to for me is this: 'Who is supposed to care about this happening?'"
The ruling quoted arose in the state judicial system. "Caring" about the problem, which in our experience officers certainly do, does not permit them to ignore the restrictions of a court ruling. It would be up to the Oregon State Legislature to change the laws which police are allowed to enforce. Ms. Crummer-Olson, and others victimized by vehicle theft, would be well advised to pursue this issue with their state senators and representatives. In the meantime, such precautions as locking a car's steering wheel with "The Club", and taking similar anti-theft steps, are urged by local law enforcement as a means of discouraging car theft.
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