Police warn of big increase in car thefts

Numbers show potential for 28 percent increase over last year

Following what a police spokesman called a “marked increase” this year in auto theft numbers, the Renton Police Department are warning residents to be vigilant and offering tips on protecting their cars.

According to Detective Robert Onishi, through September car thefts in Renton are up over the same time period last year, from 680 to 792 (not including vehicles that were recovered quickly enough to not reach the database).

“Through September we were looking at about 28 percent up for the city,” he said.

Onishi this week said if the final quarter of the year shapes up like the prior three, Renton’s total this year could land between 1,050 and 1,100 stolen vehicles, up from 905 in 2015.

In King County as a whole, the number is almost 8,800, an increase of nearly 22 percent over 2015.

Onishi said the thefts were not focused on any specific area, but were “scattered” over the city.

The detective said he was not sure why there was an increase this year, but said the city has seen increases in vehicle thefts since a low around 2009-2010. Onishi said judges seem less likely to hold property crime offenders in prison than they were in the past, resulting in many car thieves finding themselves out of jail and back on the street while awaiting trial. Plus, he said, there is always a new criminal waiting to take an older one;s place.

“There’s always up-and-coming auto thieves,” he said. “We seem to have no lack of new faces.”

According to a press release, older cars are the biggest targets for thieves. This is partially because older vehicles are less likely to have smart key systems.

Though many owners may not consider an older car a desirable target for a criminal, Onishi said in a press release that many thieves are simply looking for a way to get around while committing other crimes, making older cars with less security protection an attractive choice.

“A thief needs a way to get around,” he said.

Onishi also said that no security system will help if it is not in use, adding that “chipped” keys and other devices like them are no good if left in the car where a thief can see it or even come across it will rummaging through a vehicle makes it more likely the car will be taken.

In a similar vein, residents should be sure not to leave their keys visible at all, even inside the house or garage, because they again can become an attraction for a criminal, putting house and car at risk.

Onishi said he was “astonished” at the number of cars taken with keys in them.

Finally, as the mornings turn colder, Onishi reminded everyone to not leave their cars unattended while warming them up. Onishi said thieves refer to these vehicles as “steamers” because of the visible exhaust. Unless your car is designed with a keyless start that locks the transmission, it will be vulnerable, even with a locked window as car thieves do not mind smashing one as “they’re not paying for the repairs.”

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