Thefts prove costly in Clark County

Residents sustained nearly $23.3 million in lost property in 2012

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Crime in Washington 2012 Annual Report

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Crime in Washington 2011 Annual Report

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If you took all of the property lost through crime last year in unincorporated Clark County, how much would it be worth? According to recent year-end data from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the answer is $10,673,292. Of that value, $12,090, or one-tenth of a percent, was recovered in 2012.

The report says the city of Vancouver fared even worse, with $11,269,130 in lost property and $3,036 recovered — that's less than three one-hundreths of a percent. In most cases, the property was stolen.

There's much more to lost belongings than their dollar value, said Dianna Kretzschmar, liaison at the Fort Vancouver Convalescence Center and president of the Friends of the Elder Justice Center.

While working in Seattle at a post-acute rehabilitation facility in the late 1990s, she met a 92-year-old woman who was admitted to the facility about six months after her husband had died. Three months into her stay, her wedding ring — the one she had worn for more than 60 years — was stolen by one of the care providers.

"That was her last tangible contact with her family. She had no children," Kretzschmar said.

The small, quarter-carat diamond brought the thief $50 at a local pawn shop, where it was later recovered. The woman, however, fell into depression following the theft. She didn't eat or drink much, became less engaged in caring for herself, and died three months later. Her diagnosis? Failure to thrive.

"All because she lost her wedding ring," Kretzschmar said.

Property crimes come with emotional victimization, as well as financial, said Clark County Sheriff's Sgt. Shane Gardner. For many, it's the first time they've ever had to call on law enforcement.

"Everybody assumes it's not going to happen to me," he said.

Fear, a feeling of being violated and loss of dignity can result from coming home to learn a burglar rifled through your personal effects.

Sheriff's office data suggest that property crimes have fallen over the last couple of years, but the agency only keeps track of those that are reported. Before a group of about 60 people, Gardner asked if anyone had ever been a victim of a crime, and several hands shot up. When he then asked if they reported the crime, many hands dropped.

About 28 percent of 2012 property crime cases reported in Clark County resulted in an arrest or recovered belongings. Without proof of ownership — photos and serial numbers — it can be tough to track things down.

Neither the Clark County Sheriff's Office nor the Vancouver Police Department has a unit dedicated to investigating property crimes. Patrol officers respond to property crimes and follow-up on them when they find time.

Robberies are the most solvable, with 84 percent of 2012 cases resulting in arrest or at least the return of property. Theft is the most prolific form of property crime, accounting for more than half of all property crimes.

Proactive measures

Ben Reinhart, a security consultant for Global Security in Vancouver, said people look into installing a security system in their homes out of fear and to find some peace of mind.

Homeowners can go the full nine yards and arm their home with sensors, keypad locks, cameras, 100-decibel alarms and even beams that show when someone is crossing the yard. Protection, however, can start with walking around the property and identifying what can make it easier for a burglar to gain access to the home undetected.

A 2012 survey of 422 incarcerated burglars revealed that outdoor lighting, barred windows or doors, and a lack of potential hiding locations can deter them.

An even simpler fix, Gardner said, is to get out of the house and wave to people who pass through the neighborhood. It's basic observation skills, he said. As a cop, he gets chastised if he doesn't wave to a passing patrol car on Highway 99.

"The wave" not only makes you more aware of what's going on and who's there, it also lets outsiders know that someone saw them. If everyone in the neighborhood does it, the criminal gets the idea that everyone knows what he looks like, what he's wearing and the type of car he's driving, Gardner said.

Lopez Island, the first stop for the ferries to the San Juans, is known for its locals who give a small wave to passers-by, even if it's just the lift of a finger from the steering wheel. It's part of "Slow-pez" culture.

When he's mowing his front lawn in Vancouver's Wildwood neighborhood, Gardner waves to anyone who drives by and chats with his neighbors. He knows when something doesn't look right: The neighbor's garage door is wide open, or there's an unfamiliar car parked near his home. He also lets his neighbors know when he's going out of town and how he can be reached.

A small gesture might not wave away millions in lost property, but it can get residents communicating about what's happening. And with a little chatter about local crime trends, the whole neighborhood might get involved.

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

Burglar-proofing your home

  • Trim tree limbs to at least 7 feet above the ground. Landscaping can provide darkness and hiding spots for burglars.
  • Keep other plants down to 3 or 4 feet in height and make sure they don’t obscure windows or entry ways.
  • Don’t leave out yard tools, such as ladders, shovels and rakes. These can assist burglars in breaking into your home.
  • Install motion-detector lights in your yard that turn on when someone walks near your home.
  • Reinforce doors with a deadlock and install a peephole.
  • Sign up for email alerts on spotcrime.com, a website that tells you about crimes committed in your area.

SOURCE: John Posey, Corporate Security Systems

Most frequently reported stolen items

Source: Clark County Sheriff's Office | Chart by John Hill

Chart: Stolen Property in Clark CountyDescription: Using data from the Clark County Sheriff's Office, we've compiled the total number of reported stolen items in Clark County from 2001 to 2012 and calculated the percentage of the total for each item type.Tags: property crime, clark county waAuthor: John Hillcharts powered by iCharts