Auto Theft Unit's Loss Is Car Thieves' Gain

SPOKANE, Wash. - Get ready for a big increase in the number of cars being stolen in our area as the only law enforcement agency in Spokane still targeting car thieves is scrapping its auto theft unit.

The Washington State Patrol has decided its detectives who used to hit chop shops are heading back to the highway. The reason? Budget cutbacks have the State Patrol putting its resources back into his core mission of traffic safety.

Here in Washington State someone's car is stolen every 13 minutes. Some are crimes of opportunity: The car with the keys left in the ignition at the convenience store. Other cars disappear at the hands of organized auto theft rings and until now the State Patrol was the only agency still keeping them in check.

"They want your car, specifically because it has the right engine or the right fenders, and they have a car that needs those parts, so they'll steal your car to remove the parts and put them on their car," Washington State Patrol Sergeant Dave Bolton said.

Last year, Spokane's auto theft unit arrested 74 people while recovering 187 vehicles worth $1.3 Million.

"And the fact that our state is already ranked very high for auto theft, taking auto theft investigators out of the game isn't going to be good for the whole situation," Bolton said.

New technology, like automatic plate readers, can help police recover vehicles after they're stolen, but now, more than ever before, owners will have to make their cars less attractive targets to thieves.

"Perhaps the best measure someone can take is buy a simple steering wheel lock," Bolton said. "In the last eight years I've been working auto theft in the Spokane area I have not seen one stolen car that we've recovered, had a club on it at the time of theft."

The top three cars getting stolen across the US right now are the '94 Honda Accord, the '95 Honda Civic and the '91 Toyota Camry. If you own one of those cars now might be a good time to think about making them more secure.