PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As cars continue to go missing in Clark County, statewide data has shown over 350 vehicles have been stolen in Clark County each month since the start of the new year — reaching a total of 1,150 car thefts by March of 2022.

“The auto theft cases here in our office and in Clark County, we’ve noticed, have been going up significantly for a while, but definitely more of a spike recently,” Clark County prosecuting attorney Tony Golik said.

As the numbers of auto thefts continue to rise in Clark County, Golik told KOIN 6 News in addition to police staffing challenges, new laws which limit law enforcement and embolden criminals are some of the primary factors driving the recent increase.

Clark County Auto Thefts by Month unitl March 2022, Source Data WASPC (KOIN)
Clark County Auto Thefts by Month until March 2022, Source Data WASPC (KOIN)

“In Washington, the change in drug laws and the significant and decriminalization in possession of drugs, I think is a factor. Since a lot of people that steal cars are drug-addicted,” Golik said. “There are clearly a number of things at play. And when you put all of these together, we are seeing this spike in auto thefts.”

In an attempt to reduce the dangerous trend in auto thefts, Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Kim Kapp said their agency has begun to increase patrols in areas where more cars are reported stolen.

“What we do is look at the data that shows where more thefts are happening, and we try to then deploy our resources and our police officers into those areas to be patrolling, to be very visible,” Kapp stated. “Knowing that we can’t be everywhere, we have to kind of pick and choose where those areas of extra enforcement are going to be. And so far we are seeing some positive effects of that.”

Beyond extra patrols, Kapp said VPD continues to provide the public with information on crime prevention tactics to help residents protect themselves from becoming a potential victim and participate in the community effort to help reduce auto thefts.

“Parking where there are lights, keeping your car locked, making sure there’s not an extra set of keys somewhere that’s nearby, and obviously trying to utilize alarms and steering wheel locking devices if possible,” Kapp suggested. “We see a lot of vehicles are being stolen because they’re left running unattended.”

Kapp said VPD is taking the rise in car thefts very seriously, as the crime is not only expensive and inconvenient for the victim but has often become the catalyst for other dangerous crimes.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in auto thefts and other problems as well. We’ve looked at theft of firearms, and what we’re seeing is that almost half of firearms which are reported as stolen are a result of either auto theft or a vehicle problem,” she said. “So we know a lot of people are storing firearms in their cars and therefore, when the car is broken into, their firearms also are stolen. We have crimes that have stemmed from those types of facts.”

While Golik said he agrees with and appreciates law enforcement’s preventative tactics, he said he believes a more proactive approach is needed to address the unsettling trend.

“I think that we need to start talking about creating auto theft task forces and really focusing on this particular type of crime because we’re seeing a real spike here. I don’t think it’s appropriate to just say to people that own cars, ‘do a better job of watching your car,'” Golik said. “We need to change our focus. And I think that cities and counties are going to need to dedicate some additional resources to this issue if we’re going to see a real bending of the curve and get things back to more normal days.”

KOIN 6 News reached out to the Clark County Sheriff’s Office for comment on rising auto thefts, but they declined.