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Police scramble to slow car break-ins

Medford police have been on the lookout for the past two weeks for a suspect in an all-too-familiar crime in this city — a series of vehicle break-ins that are just the latest in a two-year jump in car clouts.

Thursday they made progress, arresting a suspect they believe smashed out the windows of several cars before making off with personal property in downtown Medford. Joshua Lines, 29, of Medford, was arrested Thursday afternoon and booked in the Jackson County Jail on charges of first-degree theft, unlawful entry into a motor vehicle, second-degree theft and third-degree criminal mischief. Lines has since been released from the jail on his own recognizance.

It's the latest incident in a rising trend that's caught the attention of Medford police. Reports of property stolen from cars in Medford has been shooting up since at least 2013. There were 828 cases reported that year and 984 reported in 2014, an increase of almost 19 percent. There have been 53 thefts from vehicles so far for 2015, 29 reported between Jan. 12 and Jan. 18 alone. Purses are among the most popular items stolen from the vehicles, but anything in plain sight that looks valuable — or could contain items of value — is a tempting target, police said.

"A lot of people may leave their belongings in the car that have not much value," Medford police Lt. Budreau said, citing lunch bag taken in recent break-ins as an example. "But the thief doesn't know there's a lunch in it. If the thief sees something that looks worth taking, they're going to break a window."

"The best thing is to just keep your car void of anything that could be valuable."

This trend is not unique to Medford, either, Budreau added.

"We hear personal stories from people that will go visit friends over the holiday and have their car broken into," he said.

The string of vehicle break-ins Lines is suspected in started Jan. 7. All the incidents occurred during the evening hours and in a tight area, which had officers on high alert for a single suspect. 

"To the point where officers are doing emails to all police: 'Hey, this is going on, keep your eyes out,' " said Budreau.

The thief smashed out the windows of two parked cars — located at Main and Grape streets and Sixth and Front streets — Jan. 7, with a purse swiped from one. The next day, a car parked at Holly and Sixth streets also had a window smashed, and an iPad inside was taken. Three cars in a parking lot at 31 Newtown St. had their windows smashed Jan. 14, though the only items stolen were two lunch bags. A purse disappeared from another car parked at 101 E. Eighth St. after another window smash on Jan. 16.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday this week, a witness spotted Lines peering inside several vehicles before he walked into the Middleford parking garage across from Lithia Motors' headquarters at the corner of Sixth Street and Riverside Avenue.

"He just looked very suspicious," Budreau said.

Lines reportedly then walked back out to the street with a backpack, jacket and other property. He abandoned some of the stolen property near the Habaneros restaurant on Front Street after he saw the witness following him, police said.

Police later found a stolen purse near the Evergreen parking structure and a swiped cosmetic bag in a garbage can, minus the $4,000 ring it had contained before its theft. Lines was arrested at 1:45 p.m. at the corner of Eighth and Elm streets.

Investigators are looking into whether Lines will be considered a suspected in a recent spree of smashed windows and thefts on a half-dozen vehicles in east Medford. In those cases, thieves made off with a gun, more purses, and jewelry.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Josh Lines
Police have arrested a suspect in a series of car break-ins, including this one that damaged a car in east Medford recently. photo from Medford Police Department