Car thieves stick with favorites

Annual list of most-taken models is, again, full of older Honda Accords and Civics

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Clark County’s most-Stolen Vehicles of ’11, by theft count

  1. 1992 Honda Accord 43

  2. 1990 Honda Accord 42

  3. 1993 Honda Accord 40

  4. 1994 Honda Accord 37

  5. 1991 Honda Accord 33

  6. 1996 Honda Accord 28

  7. 1998 Honda Civic 28

  8. 1995 Honda Accord 26

  9. 1993 Honda Civic 22

  10. 1997 Honda Accord 19

Source: Clark County Sheriff’s Office; statistics include Clark County, Vancouver, Camas and Washougal

Local car thieves have a thing for Hondas. The earlier Accords and Civics are compact, reliable and extremely easy to steal, authorities say.

"Those particular years, makes and models were a learning curve for Honda," said Tyler Chavers, car theft detective with the Vancouver Police Department.

The information on how to steal them is widely available on the Internet. Car thieves will also sell or pass on the knowledge to other criminals. Entering through windows or using a handmade key are two common methods.

Chavers said it's not uncommon for someone to buy a Honda Accord off Craigslist, learn that it was previously stolen, and then have the car stolen from them months later.

Career car thieves drive a car, then dump it. It's cheaper than owning a car and paying for the insurance, not to mention the risk of having the vehicle associated with their name.

"Most cars are not stolen for the value … they're stolen for transportation," Chavers said.

Thieves know they have a small window of opportunity to drive the car and commit other crimes until it's reported stolen. Once they get where they need to go, they can leave the first car and steal another to get somewhere else.

In the most common scenario, they swipe a car from its parking spot in the middle of the night. The owner gets ready to go the next morning, and has no vehicle, no idea who took it and no evidence.

Apartment complexes and large parking lots are prime locations for car theft. A thief can walk the aisles checking for unlocked doors and drive away with the car if they find keys inside. Most thieves steal the same way every time, Chavers said. Breaking a window is not as common, because people will call 911 when they see a car driving down the road with a smashed window.

Police procedure

When someone dials 911 to report a stolen car, a patrol officer comes out to make sure the person reporting the car as stolen is the actual registered owner. The officer will take a brief report and have the plate and vehicle identification number entered into the National Crime Information Center and locally into Washington State Criminal Investigation Center. When a police officer "runs the plate" -- compares it to the database, for instance during a traffic stop -- it will come up stolen.

Automatic license readers, mounted on the dashboards of city pickups driven by Neighbors on Watch volunteers, can read hundreds of plates per second. When a car comes up stolen, it registers a hit. The volunteers have to call dispatch, like any other citizen, to report the car stolen.

The city has two automatic license readers.

"They're severely under-utilized," Chavers said.

Chavers and John Laws, a crime analyst with the Vancouver Police Department, recently proposed putting one of the two units on a patrol car, which he says are driven about 20 hours a day. However, they were told there's no money in the budget to move the reader from one vehicle to another.

"It's a convenient excuse," Chavers said.

Reducing theft rate

Advances in technology allow people to not only find stolen cars, but also to prevent theft in the first place.

"The (car) manufacturers continue to learn and progress," Chavers said. "It's not just the anti-theft. That's one part of it. Technology has come along over the years."

Some newer cars have electronic key fobs that are coded to a specific car, starting it with the push of a button. There's no ignition, meaning no place to force in a jiggle key. If the car's driver walks away from the car while it's running, the car will automatically turn off and lock itself.

You don't see many brand-new cars that are stolen unless the thief has the keys. Somebody could find them while burglarizing a house and steal the car that way.

While about 80 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered, typically within a week, Chavers said detectives usually never figure out who stole a car.

Owners who know their earlier-model Honda Accords or Honda Civics are easier to steal can take measures to protect their cars. They leave the vehicles unlocked so the windows don't get ruined in a break-in, and put a locking device on the wheel, so the thief can't drive it away. Fewer and fewer of these older models are still on the road.

Overall, car theft is declining, but that doesn't mean car owners are in the clear.

"If there's a way to make it drive, someone that's not you can find a way to make it happen," Chavers said.

Stealing a car is a Class B felony typically met with 10 years in prison, a $20,000 fine or both. However, punishments vary based on an offender's criminal background.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; http://twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.