Task force tackles auto theft in Washington state


One Federal Way business owner has found his calling with a new task force designed to assist the state in battling automobile theft.

In July, House Bill 1001 went into effect. The bill mandates stricter punishment for automobile thieves.

However, this is not enough to rid Washington state of its automobile theft problem. Stakeholders affected by such theft must communicate to adequately combat vehicle theft, said State Sen. Tracey Eide, D-30th District.

For this reason, the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority was formed.

The organization, which held its first meeting Jan. 9, was created to review House Bill 1001’s progress, make recommendations on the bill to the Legislature and governor, and distribute money to public agencies.

All this is an attempt to decrease automobile theft in the state — the fifth highest ranked in the country for automobile theft, according to Bobbi Cussins, House Republican communications spokeswoman.

“Auto theft, I don’t think will go away,” Eide said. “This (was created) for us to understand it better.”

Increased communication:

The Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority is comprised of members from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Washington State Patrol, police chiefs, sheriffs, a prosecuting attorney, representatives from the insurance and automobile industries and one member from the general public.

The organization will distribute grant money to public agencies that have proposed new ways to decrease auto theft in Washington state. The money will come from a portion of the state’s traffic infraction fines, and will be used to establish, maintain and support programs aimed at decreasing automobile theft, according to a Jan. 10 information sheet provided to organization members.

Such programs could focus on increasing communication between enforcement agencies or the distribution of information gathered by police analysts, Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

“The intent of it is to direct resources to the municipalities to (allow them to) be able to have an impact on auto theft,” Wilson said.

Wilson has met with Merle Pfeifer, Federal Way business owner and chairman of the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce board of directors, to discuss the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority. Pfeifer is the general public figure on the authority. He was recommended for the position by Eide and will serve for two years, he said.

“He is the owner of a small business that deals with autos and he understands auto theft issues,” Eide said.

Pfeifer has first-hand experience with vehicle theft at his local business, Sparks Car Care. Thieves have stolen his customers’ vehicles from the parking lot in front of the auto repair shop, he said. Pfeifer has also had family members and friends fall victim to automobile theft, he said.

“The authority is there to make sure the law continues to curb the theft,” Pfeifer said.

For years, Washington state has fallen behind on its ability to address the automobile theft problem, Pfeifer said. Now that a law has been crafted and put in place, the Washington Auto Theft Prevention has the responsibility of making sure any money directed toward decreasing vehicle theft is spent wisely.

“We want to make sure every dollar counts,” Pfeifer said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.


Check it out:

In Washington, a car is stolen every 11 minutes, according to House Bill 1001. Since 1994, automobile theft has increased in the state by more than 55 percent, according to the bill. But things may be changing. In Federal Way, preliminary data shows a 21.7 percent reduction in auto theft in 2007, Police Chief Brian Wilson said.

Thieves can no longer steal seven vehicles before spending a prolonged amount of time in jail. With House Bill 1001, three convictions could now land a person in jail for more than a year for the offense, according to the King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney’s office. To learn more about the bill, visit the Washington State Legislature Web site at

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