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Vehicle thefts spike in Medford

Earlier this month, Caleb Laurence suddenly found himself without wheels.(Note: These percentages have been corrected.)Auto thefts in the Medford area during 2010. Select a point on the map to see details.Use the drop down menus in the table below to sort, organize or isolate the details of the thefts.

A group of thieves broke into his 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee — with his bicycle stored inside — in the middle of the night and somehow managed to get it started.

When Laurence woke the next morning, he found an empty parking spot outside his Beatty Street apartment.

In one fell swoop, Laurence was immobile.

"It's sad we have this in our neighborhoods," Laurence said. "Losing the car was bad enough, but I used my bicycle much more for my commute around town."

The car happened to be filled with valuables that night, as Laurence had gone on an outdoor expedition the previous day. He didn't get back to his apartment until 3 a.m. and was too tired to clear out his Jeep.

He paid a steep price for his decision that night.

"They got my kayak rack, my hiking backpacks, my iPad, my GPS," Laurence said. "I had renters insurance, but it was still unfortunate."

Laurence is one of a growing number of Medford residents who have experienced the shock of car theft this year.

According to statistics provided by the Medford Police Department, vehicle theft has spiked in 2010. The latest reports show a close to 90-percent increase in vehicle thefts over last year.

In 2009, police took 59 reports of stolen vehicles in the city limits. So far this year, investigators have received 147 stolen vehicle calls.

In all, Medford has experienced between 16 and 20 stolen cars a month, Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said.

"At this rate we are expecting to see somewhere around 180 and 190 stolen vehicles this year," George said. "It has left us frustrated, and we are trying to get to the bottom of this."

There's no rhyme or reason behind the rash of vehicle thefts, George said.

"We can see no clear pattern in the types of cars being stolen or the neighborhoods in which the thefts are occurring," George said. "It looks to be spread out evenly over the entire city."

Medford is bucking the national trend, which shows vehicle thefts dropping across the country, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

A breakdown of Medford's numbers shows that your car is most likely to be stolen on Tuesdays and Fridays, with each day posting 26 theft reports, respectively. Wednesdays were the slowest days for car thefts this year, with only 10 reports for the year occurring on this day. July saw the largest bump in thefts with 22 reports for the month. The lowest number of reports in a month was March, which saw seven thefts.

The most-stolen car in Medford over the past year was the Honda Accord, with eight Accords reported stolen in 2010. This is one area where Medford falls in line with national trends, as the NICB reports the Accord is the most-often stolen car in America.

The good news is the Medford Police Department has been able to return the majority of the vehicles to their owners. The department's clearance rate for vehicle thefts is 95 percent, and arrests are made in about 42 percent of cases.

"By the time we find the car the suspect is long gone," George said.

George said many of the cars are found within a few blocks from where they were stolen. Sometimes suspects take the cars on joyrides and simply leave them parked on a side street after they've had their fun.

Though the owner usually does get the car back, it is rarely returned without some damage or stolen items.

Police were able to find Laurence's Jeep the day after it disappeared, though it was much worse for the wear.

"They broke the window to get inside," he said. "And they pulled off my kayak racks."

Laurence said the men who stole his car were arrested and several of his belongings were found in a house full of stolen property.

Despite the climbing numbers, car theft remains one of the most preventable forms of crime, George said.

"We see far too many people leaving their cars unlocked with the keys inside," George said. "We would ask that you make it a habit of locking your car and removing valuable items every night."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Addresses are approximate. Source: Medford Police Department.

Caleb Laurence, 22, describes having his car stolen from his parking spot outside his Beatty Street apartment and business. His Jeep Grand Cherokee was later recovered, but many of his belongings inside the vehicle, including his iPad, were never returned. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch