Take a look while strolling downtown and you’re bound to see it – shattered glass on sidewalks, streets and parking lots from vandals bashing a car window, taking valuables from inside and fleeing the scene.
The 2,183 vehicle prowl reports citywide this year through Sunday is a 94% spike compared to the same time period last year, when 1,125 incidents were reported, according to Spokane Police Department Cpl. Nick Briggs.
“The biggest spike for vehicle prowling is definitely downtown,” Briggs said.
Kent Chandler Jr., production manager at Litho Art Printers, said he found his Ford F-150’s tinted window broken out in January in the parking lot behind the downtown Spokane commercial printer business where he works. A masked man was on his knees slowly going through a basket from Chandler’s truck, he said. Chandler said the man looked at him, walked backward with a bicycle and rode away with Chandler’s coat and gloves from the basket.
Chandler said he yelled at the man, but decided not to get close in case the man had a weapon.
Chandler said he’s worked at Litho Art Printers for 32 years, and vehicle break-ins in the area have gotten “extremely worse” in the last couple years.
Suzanne Mittleider, owner of the printer business, said break-ins quieted down during part of the COVID-19 pandemic, but “probably the last three months has been the worst I’ve ever seen it,” she said.
Mittleider and her employees park in the same pay-to-park lot where Chandler’s truck was vandalized. Cars in the lot, located on the west side of the business between Lincoln and Monroe streets and south of First Avenue, are routinely broken into, she said.
“That back lot is horrible,” Mittleider said.
Glass shards were scattered across the lot Tuesday.
Mittleider said she and her employees watch periodically for prowlers, lock their cars and remove valuables from them to avoid being a victim of the property crime.
She said she and her employees, besides Chandler, have avoided falling victim to car prowlers because the break-ins typically happen at night.
Briggs said car prowling happens at all times of the day and night, and they are typically fueled by a drug addiction or other drug factors.
Prowling is a quick crime, too, Briggs said.
He pointed to surveillance video posted on the Spokane police’s Facebook page in early March of a man in downtown Spokane breaking a car window and snatching a bag from the seat in seconds.
The man, 45-year-old Glen W. O’Brien, was arrested for the incident, the post said. It said O’Brien has 47 felony convictions and more than 225 local arrests spanning 20-plus years. The vast majority of the arrests were in the downtown area, and over half were for property crimes.
Because of the pattern, city prosecutors opposed O’Brien’s release from jail, the post said, but O’Brien was released on his own recognizance by the court the following day.
Mittleider said that is why vehicle prowling is so prevalent – prowlers are arrested and then quickly released.
“They know that there’s no consequence,” she said.
Bill Trudeau, office manager at Spokane Glass Centers, said there’s been an uptick in replacing bashed car windows at his shop, but it’s calmed down since around Memorial Day.
He said he’s noticed a huge increase in shattered windows at businesses, which has kept his repair shop busy as well. He said vandalism “drastically increased” since Thanksgiving.
“Just don’t leave anything in your car. Anything,” Trudeau said. “It could mean nothing to you but it’s gonna cost you $200 to fix your window once they think that you might have something worthwhile in there.”
Chandler said it cost about $200 to replace his shattered truck window. Trudeau said some vehicle windows cost more than $600 to replace.
Sergey Davydenko, owner of NorthWest Auto Glass in Spokane, said there’s been a “crazy” increase in bashed windows his repair shop has replaced. He said most of the car door windows he replaces are a result of vandalism.
Davydenko said he feels bad for the victims.
“It needs to be stopped,” he said.
Briggs said vehicle prowls have increased, but it’s still a small number of people committing the crimes.
“We’ve shown that time and time again,” he said. “It’s the same people committing crimes over and over again.”
Despite the shattered glass downtown, Briggs said the majority of vehicle prowl incidents involve unlocked cars.
To protect against car prowlers, he said to keep important items out of sight, lock the doors, park in well-lit areas and park near other vehicles. Briggs urged victims to continue to report car prowls, even if it’s a minor incident, because it could help solve that crime and other prowling incidents. Using security cameras and having that footage available for officers is also helpful, he said.
Police are still solving property crimes and making arrests, but many resources are directed toward the increasing violent crimes in the city, Briggs said.
“That’s got to be our priority,” he said. “So we’re being as resourceful and innovative as we can on the property crime side of things, but we have to dedicate resources to the violent crime as well. The fact is, there’s some areas that sometimes we can’t provide the level of service that we want all the time because we’ve gotta allocate those resources appropriately.”