You Probably Won’t Be Prosecuted for a Car Theft in Portland

Image from Hoffman Brown Company.

Alright, wait a minute…let me get this straight. You mean to tell me that a person who is planning to steal a car in Portland can do so knowing that they are going to get away with it? According to one KGW report, that’s exactly what’s going on right now. Apparently, the gap between the time people report their car stolen and the time police find it is so huge that it’s actually stopping criminal prosecution.

This is one of the most confusing and disturbing legislative situations that I’ve ever seen in my life. Because of a set of various 2013 Portland court of appeals opinions, many car thieves will probably never see the inside of a jail house. This is horrible, because about 19,000 people in Multnomah County have gotten their car stolen in the last 5 years. Supposedly, House Bill 2794 is the only thing that’ll make enough changes in the law where thieves won’t actually have to confess to the crime before they can be prosecuted. All that being said, if you live in the area, it’ll be in your best interest to call your lawmakers and tell them that you’d like to see that bill passed.

The FBI defines motor vehicle theft as either trying to steal or actually stealing a motor vehicle that runs on land surfaces (excluding rails). Billions of dollars are lost every year in the United States because of car theft, but the lawmakers in Portland are making it easier (and much more enticing) for car thieves to keep doing what they’re doing. If offenders know that the laws are protecting them, and that they can keep getting away with it, then why would they stop stealing cars?

But people getting their car stolen is not the only major automobile crime issue going on currently in the Portland area. For the last few years, ‘car prowlers’ have been making their mark in the arena of car theft. Most people might associate the term ‘prowler’ with a certain model of car, but it also describes the personality of a particular type of burglar. By definition, a prowler is a person who hangs around an area as if he or she is intending to do something wrong and/or commit a crime. Car prowlers break into cars to take items that they may see in plain sight. With this latest alarming trend of vehicle burglaries, you would think that more people would begin to put away valuable items that are easily seen as someone walks like past their car windows.

A crime prevention specialist by the name of Lisa Wellington from the Lynnwood Police Department gave an interview to the My Neighborhood News Network that showed the locals a quick way to remember how to protect their belongings in their cars. She calls it the 3 ‘S’ Method. “Scan the area (in your car), that’s your first ‘S’,” she said. “Stow those things away, that’s your second ‘S’, and the third thing is to secure your vehicle. So that means check your sunroof, make sure it’s closed. The weather’s nice so we want to remind people to do that, then make sure your windows are up. So – scan, stow, and secure.”

Wellington is from Lynnwood, Washington, which is about 200 miles away from Portland. But, the distance between the two cities doesn’t change the fact that both Washington and Oregon are located in a part of the United States that has ridiculously high rates of auto theft. did a report last year that showed the automobile theft rates in each state based on the amount of thefts per 100,000 people (the color coded categories showed states with less than 100 thefts per 100,000 people, from 100-199 thefts, from 200-299, and states that had over 300 thefts).

Although Oregon was in the third group with 240 car thefts, three of its bordering states had more than 300, Washington with 434, Nevada with 358, and California with 391 car thefts (D.C. had the most in the entire nation with 574 auto thefts per 100,000 people).

The truth is car thefts and car prowling thefts are some of the most underreported crimes in the Portland area. And, many times, an offender will get away with it over and over again before they are finally caught. By that time they’ve likely racked up a large number of charges, such as in one case from a few years ago. On Tuesday May 19th 2015, Portland Police got called when a white Taurus was stolen. When they finally caught up with the suspects, they realized that the thieves had a stolen car that was full of stolen items that they’d snatched while car prowling.

It seems as if car prowlers always travel in groups. In another case a year later, a trio was arrested for over 100 car break-ins. That Saturday in December of 2016 was an example of how car prowlers will take just about anything of value. According to reports, the Sherwood Police (after running down two suspects who fled in a red truck and one on foot) found among the stolen items everything from stolen guns to a guitar to flashlights.

The FBI determined a few years ago that, in the United States, a car gets stolen every 45 seconds. Although every state doesn’t have high rates of car theft, the northwestern part of the country knows it to be one of the most reoccurring crimes. There is nothing good about auto theft, except that the crimes themselves are most of the time not violent (such as when a car gets stolen by forcefully tossing a driver out of the vehicle, like on the popular video game series Grand Theft Auto). Those are labeled ‘carjackings’ and they only add up to about 3% of all automobile thefts in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute.

But that surely doesn’t mean that Oregon hasn’t seen its share of carjackings over the past several years. Here are some of the ones you may or may not have heard about:

• One of the most surprising Portland carjacking stories that I’ve ever seen happened in December 2012. A seven-year-old and an eleven-year-old tried to jack a lady’s truck with her sitting in the driver’s seat in the parking lot of a church. The lady said that when she saw the gun she didn’t believe it was real, but that they threatened to blow her brains out if she didn’t give up the truck. She drove away very scared, but unharmed.

• One of the craziest carjackings happened once in a Dutch Brothers restaurant drive-thru in Bend, Oregon. A teenage driver was being approached by a menacing man in the parking lot who was wearing no shirt while the driver sat in the drive-thru lane. Suddenly, the guy jumped into the passenger seat and ordered the young man to drive. When he wouldn’t, the man reached over and pushed down on the gas pedal with his hand. The teen jumped out, and the vehicle crashed into a parked one close by.

• More recently, in March of 2017 a man was reportedly standing on the side of U.S. 26 screaming at cars and throwing large rocks at them. When one of the passing vehicles stopped, he abruptly let himself into the passenger seat, and threatened the driver with a knife and a stick. The driver exited the vehicle, and the police caught the suspect after a chase down the road.

Is there a certain type of car that gets stolen more than others? According to the US News & World Report, yes, there is. As of August of 2016, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says that the Honda Accord was the most often stolen vehicle with over 52,000. The Honda Civic was next with just over 49,000, and number three on the list was the Ford Full-Sized Pickup with just over 29,000 of them stolen in 2015.





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