Arlington gets tough on auto thieves

ARLINGTON – The bad guys break into cars, drive them to Everett and trade whatever they find inside for drugs.

It’s a cycle the Arlington Police Department wants to break.

The department will soon use undercover officers, a bait car, police volunteers and the Internet to put the brakes on the soaring number of vehicle thefts and prowls in the city, Police Chief John Gray said.

“We want to create a climate of problem solving in our community so the whole place is safer,” Gray said.

To catch a thief

Police use bait cars to catch car thieves red-handed. The cars are often equipped with alarms that alert police when someone is trying to break into them. Some bait cars also have tracking devices so police can follow them.

Follow these tips to protect yourself from car theft:

* Always lock your doors.

* Dont leave your engine running or the keys in the ignition.

* Use a steering wheel lock.

* Install and use a car alarm.

In 2005, 140 vehicles were stolen in Arlington, up from 96 in 2004. Already this year, at least 56 vehicles have been stolen, a pace that could eclipse 330 thefts by the end of the year.

Vehicle prowls are also on the rise, Gray said. The department groups vehicle prowls with thefts when compiling its statistics, and the number increased to 845 last year from 576 in 2004.

Gray will begin posting photographs of people with outstanding arrest warrants for vehicle theft on the city’s Web site. He will also post a weekly list of recent property crimes and where they happened.

“It’s all about raising awareness,” Gray said. “If people know what’s happening around them, they can be innovative and creative and protect themselves.”

Police also want to arrest more car thieves. Undercover officers will be hanging out in areas prone to car theft, and bait cars will be used to lure thieves, Gray said.

The department also is launching a new program in which volunteers will do some of the clerical work that would otherwise take the time of a police officer. The department also wants to start an Explorer program for teenagers affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America.

“We’ve had this idea on the back burner, and we’ve moved it forward,” Gray said. “We don’t have enough staff help to do everything we need to do involving these crimes.”

Car theft isn’t just a local problem. The Puget Sound region, including Everett and Seattle, was ranked 10th in the nation for reported car thefts in 2004, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The thieves spare no one, not even elected officials.

Arlington City Council member Marilyn Oertle was leaving her house for a meeting Thursday morning when she realized her husband’s 1988 Honda Accord was gone from their driveway.

“It’s really infuriating that somebody can just come and take your car,” Oertle said. “It’s beyond my realm of thinking.

“The thing of it is, it’s not the car,” she said. “It’s your stuff. Someone has your stuff, and they’re going through it.”

What’s most frustrating is that a majority of the crimes are committed by a small group of people who have been arrested before, he said. They often get out of jail because of overcrowding in the prison system, get back on the streets and commit crimes again, even as existing charges against them slog through the court system.

Gray said when just one criminal he knows is behind bars, he notices a significant drop in the city’s crime rate.

“He and people like him are making their living on the backs of the community,” Gray said.

Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or

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