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Car thefts an accelerating trend

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Car thefts are up in Medford — and residents are making it too easy for the thieves.

Of the 380 vehicle thefts in 2018, 67 stemmed from keys being left inside or a pilfered hide-a-key, while 16 vehicles were left running or warming up in front of a home, police data shows. Comparatively, the number of cases involving a window break and ignition punch with a screwdriver or other tool is low.

“Ten, 15 years ago, that’s how cars were stolen, but that takes a lot of effort,” said Lt. Mike Budreau of Medford police. “It doesn’t always work. So basically, if the thieves can find the keys, they’ve got a car.”

Despite police warnings to not leave keys in the vehicle, the practice continues. Sometimes it’s simple forgetfulness, but other times drivers think nothing will happen, Budreau said.

“The thieves are looking for someone to make a mistake. They’re looking for someone to get lax, leave their keys in the vehicle,” he said.

Police recommended parking vehicles in a garage when possible or investing in a steering wheel lock.

Last year’s vehicle thefts represented a nearly 9 percent jump from 2017’s 350 cases, but still down from the 431 documented in 2016. It was the highest number of cases in seven years, according to Medford police data. There were 308 car thefts in 2015, 245 in 2014, 183 in 2013 and 188 in 2012.

“Obviously they’re increasing,” said Budreau. “I think the question is, ‘why?’”

The majority of arrested suspects have a substance addiction, he said, adding the thieves don’t typically plan to sell the car or strip it for parts.

“They’re really just looking for transportation,” Budreau said.

A small group of frequent offenders are responsible for the majority of the thefts, he said. And while car theft is a felony, it’s not considered a “person crime,” meaning car thieves are more likely to be released from jail early.

Honda was the most popular stolen vehicle, police said, and accounted for 74 of last year’s thefts. Of those, 68 were either Accords or Civics, many of them older models, Budreau said.

“Historically, that’s a nationwide trend where they’re stolen often,” he said. “They’re fairly inexpensive. There are still a lot of them out on the road because they’re fairly reliable vehicles, so there’s an abundance of them.”

The ignition feature on many of the older Honda vehicles also plays a key role.

“The keys were, number one, some of them were interchangeable,” Budreau said. “And a lot of these thieves know that, so they’ll have a set of Honda keys, and they can try multiple and hopefully get lucky. They can also have, basically, a shaved key. Almost like a master key that will work on just about any Honda on certain years.”

Fords followed as the second most popular model stolen with 55, then Toyotas with 51.

Thieves occasionally ventured beyond the standard car, truck and van fare, stealing more unusual pieces of transportation. In one case, a Humvee and John Deere excavator disappeared from a construction site on Table Rock Road behind Natural Grocers. Both were later recovered at a Cave Junction cannabis farm. Yet another John Deere excavator was stolen from a construction site in a separate case.

While most stolen vehicles stay in the region and are recovered intact, two have been recovered as far away as Nebraska and Montana.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4468.

Mail Tribune file photoA driver in a stolen car crashed into the Stewart Meadows Golf Course during a police chase.
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