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Vehicle thefts spike

Sat., Sept. 15, 2007, midnight

Just when car thieves seemed to be passing Spokane Valley by, a rash of stolen vehicles in August tied a four-year record, crime statistics show.

Last month, criminals stole 71 vehicles in Spokane Valley, which not only tied a four-year August record, but also ranked the month as the fifth worst for car thefts since 2004. The worst months for car theft tend to be November and December, when parking lots congested with holiday shoppers make vehicle theft easier.

Repeatedly, thieves are using “shaved” keys to steal cars, meaning the keys were originally for another vehicle, similar in make and model, and altered to work in other cars. Criminals knock the edges off the keys and sometimes even slim them down so an ignition really can’t determine if the keys are bogus. Shaved keys are also known as “jiggler keys” because it takes a little jiggling to get them work in a key socket.

A criminal could use a file or grinder to shave a key, but police also say thieves can shave a key by simply rubbing it against a rock or curb.

It’s hard to tell if someone is using a shaved key to steal a car. The only clue sometimes if they have to struggle to unlock the doors or start the engine.

The worst hit area for recent car thefts was the intersection of Wilbur Road and Mansfield Avenue, said Doug Silver Spokane County crime analyst.

“We had 15 stolen from the area of Wilbur and Mansfield for the month of August,” Silver said. “We had, like, three Acuras taken, two Toyota Camrys and several others. The rest are arbitrary.”

The northwest corner of the intersection is occupied by Montgomery Court, a large apartment complex well represented in the month’s crime statistics.

Police consider high density apartment complexes to be hotbeds for auto theft. Many of the cars are of the more affordable variety and aren’t equipped with the kind of antitheft devices that make more expensive cars difficult to steal. There are also a lot of vehicles left out in the open in apartment complex parking lots, giving thieves plenty to look over. At night when residents are in bed, criminals can work the lots over with impunity.

In 2006, nearly every Spokane Valley intersection where apartment complexes are clustered showed up as a car-theft hotbed. However, the second-worst area for car thefts was Spokane Valley Mall, where 16 cars were stolen, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Nearly half of those cars were stolen during the Christmas shopping season.

Car thieves clobbered Spokane Valley in 2006, with 711 vehicles stolen, a jump of more than 100 cars from the previous year.

Eight months into 2007, there have been 359 cars stolen in Spokane Valley, nearly 70 fewer cars than were stolen at the same point in 2006. May, June and July saw record four-year lows. Cause for the late summer spike could be a combination of things, Silver said, including who’s in or out of jail.

“Once they get out, they’ll hit the crimes they’re comfortable with,” Silver said.

Another comfort crime of note is vehicle prowling. Car break-ins spiked in August, as well, with cellular phones, compact discs and after-market car stereos being hot items. Members of the Spokane Sheriff’s Community Oriented Policing Effort suggest people don’t leave commonly stolen items in cars. Once a vehicle prowler gets inside a car, stealing it isn’t too big a progression.

SCOPE director Rick Scott’s advice is to keep vehicles locked and preferably parked in a well-lit area. Look for video surveillance. Even the sight of a camera can be a deterrent. And notify SCOPE if it appears your neighborhood is being targeted by vehicle criminals. The volunteer policing organization will make extra patrols in affected neighborhoods.

At 466 reports so far this year, vehicle prowling is the lowest it’s been in the last four years.


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