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Monday, February 24, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  WA Government

Spokane officials urge lawmakers to keep track of career car thieves – especially the ‘Top 25’

UPDATED: Mon., March 18, 2019

In this photo from 2012, Spokane police handcuff a suspect thought to have stolen a car. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
In this photo from 2012, Spokane police handcuff a suspect thought to have stolen a car. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Spokane officials repeated their pitch for a state program that keeps tabs on car thieves when they get out of prison, presenting figures on individuals who are responsible for their own crime waves.

Better community supervision by the state Department of Corrections after they serve their sentence might stem the tide of property crimes washing over Spokane and other Washington cities, they said.

“We know that what we’re doing right now is not working,” Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl told the House Public Safety Committee.

Meidl said the Spokane area has a group of career car thieves he called “the top 25.” Among them, they are responsible for 200 vehicle thefts and 1,400 other crimes, primarily other property or drug crimes.

One car thief with 14 felonies on his record is responsible for 222 other crimes, and several others have criminal records in triple digits, Meidl said.

“The vast majority of our crimes are driven by drug addiction,” he added.

One car thief is particular to a certain make of vehicle: he estimates he’s stolen 130 Subarus, although sometimes he just stole one to get him from one location to another, then left it.

Members of the committee seemed incredulous. Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, asked if those who had drug or alcohol abuse problems were getting treatment in prison. Yes, a Department of Corrections staff member said, although the number of treatment slots are limited.

“How can they be back in the community so quickly,” Rep. Robert Sutherland, R-Granite Falls, asked.

“That’s the question our officers have every day,” Meidl said. “What happens after they get booked into jail is up to the rest of the system.”

Meidl, Spokane Mayor David Condon and Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs asked the committee to support a bill that would allow judges to sentence people convicted of felony car theft to six months to a year of community supervision, with some provisions for shortening the time in prison. The community supervision program would be tailored to the released inmate to help with housing and substance abuse treatment and require regular meetings with a community corrections officer.

The state dropped community supervision programs for nonviolent criminals about 10 years ago to save money during the recession. Asked why the proposal focuses only on auto thefts, Condon said it was a cost issue, but, if it works there, the program could be expanded to other property crimes.

The Senate has already approved the proposal, and it seems likely to pass the committee. Chairman Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, said his car windows were smashed two weeks ago.

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