Tri-Cities auto thefts spike almost 50 percent

Tri-Cities auto thefts spike almost 50 percent »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- The KEPR Crime Tracker has uncovered a startling trend across the Tri-Cities: Auto thefts have taken a sharp spike.

The number of stolen cars has jumped up more than 50 percent since last year. Police aren't sure what's driving the trend.

Hatti Longmeier hasn't been fond of her neighborhood in Kennewick since she moved in two years ago.

"I'd like to say it's good, but, I mean, it's really not," she said.

And she has good reason. Her neighbor just recently got her car stolen from in front of her house - and she's not alone.

It's part of a growing trend across all three cities that has car thefts up almost 50 percent since the start of the year compared to this time last year.

Pasco has seen an 18 percent increase in thefts, Kennewick more than 90 percent, and Richland is up a whopping 160 percent. But luckily, stolen cars are also being found intact.

"These cars are just being driven and then not necessarily being stripped, not being damaged, not burned, not dumped in the river, just driven and left in parking lots," said Kennewick Police Department Sgt. Ken Lattin.

Police say it's also an unusual trend that they're recovering so many cars. More than half of the cars stolen in Kennewick during that same time period were recovered.

"Normally, we're going to see cars just disappear. They're either going to chop shops, they're getting shipped out to other countries, they're burned," Sgt. Lattin said.

The thefts are happening everywhere. There's no specific hotspot or trend of who's taking them. Officers' new tactic is looking for known car thieves who may have warrants.

"If we can take them out of the market for stealing, put them in jail for outstanding warrants, then we can possibly reverse this trend," Lattin continued.

The uptick in thefts has people like Hatti ready to install more lights around her house to deter potential thieves.

"It's just too much. Too much for a town this big," she said.

Police say they anticipate the number of thefts to go up with the warmer temperatures. They also say the majority of the cars stolen this winter were being warmed up on cold days.