PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Scenic and serene, the southernmost district of Clark County has now become a hot spot for car thefts, according to a shocking new statewide report.
Using vehicle theft data from the Washington State Patrol, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) released a statewide report in April, which found Clark County had the third-highest rate of car thefts this year — with over 1,000 cars reported stolen by March of 2022.
“The data show what our law enforcement and communities are seeing out there every day—the word is out and criminals know what they can do under our current laws,” WASPC Executive Director Steve Strachan stated. “Each of these alarming numbers represent a victim, and victims of auto theft too often are those who can least afford it- with older cars with fewer anti-theft systems, with less insurance coverage, and with greater impacts on their lives.”
Since the start of the new year, state data revealed over 350 cars have been stolen in Clark County each month — and those numbers appear to be rising.
According to the WASPC report, the county reported a total of 1,150 car thefts this year so far, with 364 thefts in January, 391 reported in February and rising to 395 by the end of March.
The data support the recent rise in car theft crime in the county is a continuing trend from last year, as the report showed 2,829 cars were stolen in Clark County in 2021, which is the third-highest rate of vehicle theft in Washington, behind Pierce and King County.
However, the increase is not specific to Clark County alone, as the WASPC report revealed vehicle thefts are up 88% from this time last year, and up 99% from March of 2022 when compared to March of 2021 — and according to WASPC, new state laws are to blame.
“In July 2021 laws went into effect that placed blanket restrictions on the tools law enforcement could use to detain, pursue, and investigate suspects,” WASPC said. “Since the laws changed in 2021 vehicle thefts have increased 93% which WASPC believes is a direct result of the restrictions on investigating criminal activity.”
While WASPC said the statewide rise in car thefts is the result of recent legislation which emboldens criminals and simultaneously restricts law enforcement, those laws do not explain why the fifth-most populous county touts the third-highest rate of car thefts.
KOIN 6 News reached out to officials with Clark County law enforcement for more insight on the disproportionately high rates of car thefts in the region.
“Communities across Washington, and nationally, are seeing increases in property crimes such as auto theft, and Vancouver has also seen increases as well,” Vancouver Police spokesperson Kim Kapp said. “These increased crime rates began as COVID restrictions started to take effect and include multiple factors such as rising rates of drug use, diminished jail capacity, homelessness, limited access to social services for those experiencing mental health issues…”
Kapp continued, echoing similar sentiments stated by WASPC, saying, “as part of the larger criminal justice system; whether a case will move forward for prosecution, whether those arrested will be booked and released or if they are incarcerated how long will they be in jail. These are a few of the factors impacting crime rates in communities, including Vancouver.”
Kapp told KOIN 6 News in addition to promoting crime prevention and “target hardening” messages for Clark County locals, VPD has begun to step up its enforcement in regions where more cars are stolen.
“In an effort to reduce auto theft, the Vancouver Police Department has been conducting focused enforcement in areas where we have statistically higher numbers of auto thefts occurring,” she said. “Through these targeted enforcements we are hoping to see a reduction in these crimes.”
Although the Clark County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to KOIN 6 News’ request for comment, the agency put out a release in late January, which called on the public to help fight a “significant increase” in auto thefts.
“To illustrate how prevalent this crime has become, we tracked auto theft over a 19-day period in one single area of the county” CCSO stated in the release. “From January 1st to January 19th, 2022, there were 23 vehicles stolen from the Orchards area alone.”
Back in January, the CCSO Patrol Division called auto theft a “very preventable crime,” and further urged the community not to leave their vehicles running or unattended.
And although police play a significant part in preventing and stopping crimes like auto theft, Kim Kapp told KOIN 6 News a team effort will be needed to successfully address the complex issue of rising car thefts in the County.
“Auto theft is also a crime that can have spin-off crimes, depending on what is inside a vehicle when it is stolen. We are seeing increased thefts of firearms, increased identity theft and other property crimes as a result of an auto theft,” Kapp explained. “Crime reduction requires a multi-pronged approach that involves many community stakeholders and solutions, of which law enforcement, of course, plays a role — but not the only role.”