Web of vehicle theft connects Woodburn and Salem
Rates of vehicle theft are skyrocketing according to a recent report from the Woodburn Police Department. Thefts increased by 145 percent in the last five years, going from 60 in 2013 to 147 in 2016.
The rise in thefts is being driven by the increase in methamphetamine and opioid addiction, according to Woodburn Police Chief Jim Ferraris. The majority of the cars are stolen by transients for transportation, he said.
"There is a nexus between here and Salem. People steal cars here and they are recovered in Salem, and they steal cars in Salem and they are recovered here," Ferraris said.
The most commonly stolen vehicles are Honda Accords and Civics, according to the report, with 106 Hondas stolen from 2013 to 2017. Pre-1998 model Hondas are vulnerable because they lack anti-theft features, Ferraris said. Thieves can use shaved keys or tools to open doors and start the ignition.
A large number of vehicles were also stolen when they had keys left inside or hidden spare keys. One-fifth of stolen cars had the keys inside, and one-half of cars were unlocked.
The Woodburn Police Department made 59 arrests from 2016 to 2017 for unauthorized use of a vehicle, but only 28 have resulted in convictions. According to Ferraris, prosecution for UUV has been made more difficult by two recent court cases: Oregon vs. Shipe and Oregon vs. Koth.
The two cases resulted in decisions that people cannot be convicted for carrying tools associated with car break-ins and that operating a car with the wrong key was not enough evidence to prove that a person knew the car they were driving was stolen.
As a result, prosecutors are less likely to try to convict people who are arrested in stolen vehicles because the court requires more evidence.
"If we catch a guy in a stolen car, he can just say, 'I bought it from Joe at 7-11 for 50 bucks,'" Ferraris said. "They pretty much hamstrung us. We can't get a conviction without a clear confession of guilt."
Ferraris spoke in support of House Bill 4161, which would have reversed the effects of the decisions, at the House Rules Committee in February. The bill didn't pass.
"Hopefully in the 19th session the Legislature gets their act together to fix this problem," Ferraris said.
WPD has a limited number of wheel locks available for Woodburn residents who own a Honda Civic or Accord and have a police report for the theft of their vehicle in the last 12 months. Locks were donated by Advance Auto, Auto Zone, Napa Auto Parts and O'Reilly Auto Parts.