City experiencing rash of car thefts
June 13, 2008 · Updated 10:15 AM
"Loretta Nicholson called her 1988 Toyota Camry the color of wet asphalt because of its ability to blend into the road.But after walking up and down the rows of cars outside Pavilions Centre for more than 30 minutes, Nicholson faced the fact that her inability to locate her car wasn't a visual trick. Someone had stolen it between 4 and 6 p.m. on Jan. 3 while she shopped.It was an awful feeling, Nicholson said. I mean I kept saying, 'Somebody stole my car.' It just didn't sink in. ... I'm not naive enough to think life is fair but man's inhumanity to man incenses me. That was my car. It's kind of like 'How dare you?' A growing number of Federal Way residents are feeling the same rage and shock as the city experiences a record number of auto thefts, mirroring state and federal crime trends. The Federal Way Department of Public Safety is responding with increased patrols and education efforts, and police officials have expressed interest in a federal auto theft prevention program. In 1999, 805 cars were stolen in the city and in 2000, 856 cars were stolen, figures Deputy Public Safety Director Brian Wilson calls way too high. And so far, the problem shows little sign of diminishing. In just over a month, between Dec. 1, 2000 and Jan. 7, 2001, 105 cars were stolen, including Nicholson's.Statewide over the past 10 years, the population increased by 21 percent while the number of auto thefts increased by 60 percent, said Mike Noski of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.Federal Way police arrested 90 people for auto theft in 1999, and 83 in 2000. Seven people were arrested between Dec. 1, 2000 and Jan. 7, 2001. Some of those people likely stole more than one car, said police spokesman Mark Harreus.The majority of auto thefts are committed by people who want to joyride, and most of those cars were recovered. In 2000, 714 were recovered. Eighty of the 105 cars stolen within the last month have been recovered. But Nicholson's Camry wasn't among them; in fact, the 54-year-old Federal Way woman began looking for a new car this week just in case.I'm still really hoping they find it, she said.But even if it is, it likely won't be in the same shape it was when it was stolen. On average, recovered vehicles have sustained $5,800 each in missing parts and damage, Noski said.Those cars that aren't recovered - about 33 out of every 100 stolen statewide - typically are taken to chop shops, places where they're dismantled, Noski said. The parts are sold off and, in many cases, shipped overseas. The main reason for the auto theft boom is an increased market for stolen parts overseas.Federal Way police are responding to the increase in auto thefts with several approaches. First, they're increasing their education efforts, including reminding residents of such safety basics as locking their car every time they leave it.While we have a pretty good recovery rate, we think the education aspect to this is to let people know what they can do to prevent this from occurring, Wilson said. There were some cases where people left their cars running, left keys in the cars, purses in the car.Sometimes people do all the right things and they still have their car stolen. Nicholson said she locked all her doors before going shopping.The department is also having officers focus their patrols in areas that have been hardest hit by thieves, primarily the city's three park and ride lots and large business parking lots, and spend more time patrolling areas that are potential targets of thieves, Harreus said.The department is one of several in the state that have expressed interest in the Watch Your Car Program being coordinated by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. Federally funded through the Department of Justice, the program involves distributing decals for residents to stick on their vehicle windshields.The reflective decals indicate that the driver wouldn't typically be driving between 1 and 5 a.m., when most auto thefts occur. They enable police to stop a vehicle, even if the driver hasn't committed a traffic violation, between those hours and check for ownership. We're trying to catch the theft of a vehicle in progress, said Noski, who will manage the program.The association hopes to have the program running by April, Noski said. The association has the decals but must wait until the database is ready in which all the program's members will be inputted.The deterrent value of the program will be remarkable, Harreus said.Nicholson said she appreciates that the police are making the effort to try to cut the number of car thefts.I love that sticker thing, she said. I would never mind being pulled over after 1 a.m. to know that if someone took my car it could be pulled over. "