EVERETT — There were 583 fewer vehicle thefts in Snohomish County in 2015 but it is hard to pinpoint exactly why.
Detectives believe the drop is due to a combination of factors, including crime-prevention education efforts, media coverage and aggressive prosecutions that have placed some of the region’s most prolific car thieves behind bars and off the street.
“We put a lot of people in prison in 2015,” said Terry Haldeman, a sheriff’s detective with the multi-agency Snohomish County Auto Theft Task Force.
Sentences get longer for repeat offenders under state law and many of the car thieves sent away had previous records. Some were believed responsible for stealing hundreds of cars.
“There is not a lot of wiggle room,” Haldeman said. “People are seeing real time.”
The average prison term for car thieves arrested by the task force in 2015 was three years, although many of the defendants also were convicted of other crimes, such as drug possession, eluding police and illegally possessing firearms that contributed to the length of their sentences.
The number of auto thefts in the county dropped from 3,289 reported stolen vehicles in the county in 2014 to 2,706 last year.
The county mirrored the state last year. Across Washington, the number of car thefts dropped 14 percent to 24,561 in 2015, according to the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority.
The task force continued to see familiar motives behind thefts. They dismantled chop shops where stolen cars are stripped for parts while tracking down people who were stealing cars just to get from one point to another.
“Nothing has really changed,” Haldeman said. “We are still running the gamut.”
The majority of cases are driven by the drug trade, especially heroin addiction, Haldeman said.
The task force also recovered 18 pieces of stolen heavy machinery worth more than a half million dollars.
The most popular cars to steal across the state remain 1990s-era Hondas and Toyotas because they are among the easiest to break into, according to a 2014 report.
Technology also could lead to reductions in car thefts in the future because newer vehicles carry more sophisticated antitheft technology, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported.
Experts in auto theft prevention say people should not leave valuable items in their cars and need to make sure they lock the car doors.
“What we are seeing is crimes of opportunity,” Haldeman said.
Thieves might be looking for laptops or other electronics and end up driving off with the car.
“They will be prowling one car in the driveway and find the keys for it in the car sitting next to it,” Haldeman said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; firstname.lastname@example.org.