Auto thefts on Oahu decline 15 percent
But don't drop your guard
STORY SUMMARY »
Auto theft cases continue to drop on Oahu.
As of June 30, thieves have stolen nearly 15 percent fewer cars this year than during the same period last year. Since 2002, when auto thefts zoomed to more than 8,400, the number of cars reported stolen has dropped 26 percent.
Police caution that there are many variables that affect auto theft numbers, including when and if convicted auto thieves are released from prison. Police said officers target specific areas when auto theft reports spike.
Police advise people to remain vigilant of who is in their neighborhood and what cars they are driving.
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Thieves have stolen fewer cars on Oahu this year than last year, continuing a downward trend that started four years ago, but police advise everyone to remain vigilant.
As of June 30, there have been 2,117 auto theft cases on Oahu compared with 2,484 during the same period last year, a nearly 15 percent drop.
Since 2002, auto theft cases have dropped 26 percent. In 2002 there were 8,488 cars stolen compared with 6,289 last year.
OAHU STOLEN VEHICLES
2007 (AS OF JUNE 30)
Recovered: 1,611 (76 percent recovery rate)
2006 (AS OF JUNE 30)
Recovered: 1,939 (78 percent recovery rate)
AUTO THEFTS ON OAHU TOTALS
Source: Honolulu Police Department
In 2002, auto thefts soared by 52 percent over the year before and helped give Hawaii the third worst property crime rate in the nation, according to the FBI.
Lt. James Strickland, head of the Honolulu Police Department's auto theft detail, said a number of variables can affect the number of cases and could cause numbers to spike back up.
"There's nothing to indicate there are more or less car thieves than usual, but it varies on several reasons," he said. "You'll never have a flatline, and we don't want to be predictable either. We have to be flexible."
Among those variables are:
» Market demand for certain auto parts and cars.
» Convicted auto thieves being released from jail and repeating their offenses.
"My detectives usually will check who just got out of jail," Strickland said. "When these guys get out of jail, they start going right back at it again. That's what they are, they're thieves."
Most auto theft arrests stem from the thieves being pulled over for traffic violations, such as not wearing seat belts, dangling objects in the rear-view mirror, or running stop signs and hitting curbs, Strickland said.
"Their driving might be a little reckless," Strickland said. "If he cuts a corner and hits a curb, he might think, 'Who cares? It's not my car.' "
Police would also set up traffic checkpoints in areas where there have been a recent reports of auto thefts.
"We have to have specific and articulable facts to back up pulling someone over," he said. "When we notice an increase here or there depending on the intelligence we get, we will target a specific area."
Police also keep an eye out for emerging car-theft methods. Investigators continue to investigate several people involved in alleged schemes to sell stolen auto parts online through sites like Craigslist.org and Forumshawaii.net
In May, police arrested two 17-year-old boys for allegedly operating a mobile chop shop operation and selling the parts online.
Chris Schultz, a 27-year-old Mililani resident who browses Forumshawaii.net, said he was sold a 1992 Honda Civic with a stolen engine inside. The car's vehicle identification number plate was missing, so he ran the serial number on the engine through police and discovered it was stolen.
Schultz said the boy who sold it to him also didn't know it was stolen, and that police arrested a man who lived on the Leeward side in connection with the stolen engine. The company that insured the car from which the engine was stolen then claimed the engine. But the engine was later returned to Schultz after he and the insurance company came to an agreement.
Police thanked Schultz for coming forward.
Schultz, who moved to Hawaii from Virginia recently, said it's frustrating that he can't just buy a second-hand car part without worrying whether it's stolen and that he might become an accessory to a crime.
"You have a hobby, and it costs money, and time out of your life," Schultz said. "Sometimes you put your family on the side for a moment so you can work on your car, and for people to not spend a dime and sell parts to someone like me, it's just a slap in the face."
Knowing your neighbors is probably the best way in preventing or solving auto thefts, Strickland said. When there are strange cars cruising slowly through the neighborhood, Strickland said it may be a thief doing some window shopping.
But police advise not to confront the thief.
"You can buy another car," Strickland said. "Let him have the car, collect the insurance. Instead, take down a license plate number and remember what the person looked like. But know who belongs in your neighborhood."