The Olympia Police Department has investigated an increased number of car thefts this year, with thieves primarily targeting older Hondas.
About 34 percent more cars were stolen in January and February than during the same period last year — 39 cars were reported stolen during the first two months of 2015, while 29 were reported stolen in January and February of 2014.
Lt. Paul Lower said that thieves primarily steal 1990s-era Hondas, but Acuras and Toyotas are common targets, too. That’s likely because those models are relatively easy to steal with a filed-down car key.
“Most of the people we arrest for car theft have what we call ‘shaved keys,’ ” Lower said. “There’s something about those Hondas that makes them easy to start.”
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The popularity of the cars could also be part of their downfall, Lower said. Thieves who steal parts and equipment from Hondas will find it relatively easy to sell the stolen pieces.
While car thefts have been reported throughout the city, they’re concentrated in three places: on Lily Road near Providence St. Peter Hospital, in west Olympia near Yauger Way and in downtown Olympia.
Thieves appear to target west Olympia and Lilly Road for the same reasons, Lower said. The areas are home to large, crowded parking lots where people can look for targets without drawing much suspicion.
“There are a lot of people coming and going, so a thief can look pretty anonymous walking around,” Lower said.
Downtown car thefts are an altogether different kind of crime. Lower said the crimes typically occur during “bar hours,” from about 11 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
“What sometimes happens is people will leave things at the table while they’re dancing or talking to someone,” Lower said. “Someone will take their keys, and they won’t even notice. At the end of the night, they’ll go outside and the car will be gone.”
Other times, thieves break into the cars and use a shaved key.
Police don’t believe that the increase in car thefts is the result of organized crime, or that the thefts are even related. That’s mainly because the cars are found in a variety of places in a variety of conditions, Lower said.
Cars stolen from Olympia have been found in Thurston, Mason and Pierce counties. Some are found only blocks from where they were stolen, with thieves taking only items left in the car — cellphones, iPads, change from the cup holder.
In more extreme cases, cars are found in remote areas with wheels, radio and engine missing, Lower said.
Cars also have been found crashed.
“It looks like people have used these cars that aren’t meant to go off-road to go four-wheeling,” Lower said. “They’re just all broken up.”
But owning an older Honda doesn’t necessarily mean your car will be stolen, he said. Olympia officers keep tabs on known car thieves and frequently patrol areas hit hardest by the thefts.
“We are watching those hot locations like a hawk, especially at night,” Lower said.
And when cars are stolen, there’s a decent chance they’ll be recovered if owners report the thefts in a timely fashion. Lower estimated about 50 percent of stolen cars are returned to their owners — but only if they’re found within the first three days. After that, there’s a much smaller chance that stolen cars will be found.
Once they’re found, officers search the vehicles for evidence, then call the owners to pick them up. But if the owners aren’t available, officers call a towing company, Lower said. Unfortunately, drivers or their insurance companies have to foot the bill for that.
Owners of older cars also can use theft prevention devices, known as steering wheel locks, to deter thieves. Lower said the department’s Office of Community Services received car theft prevention grant and purchased several of these devices. Owners of older Hondas can pick up the clubs for free at department headquarters, 900 Plum St. SE. Office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Car owners also can decrease the likelihood of thefts by removing their valuables, locking their cars, setting their alarms and checking on their cars regularly.