Vehicle thefts adding up in Grays Harbor

Grays Harbor residents ought to lock up their vehicles, because vehicle thefts throughout Washington state are on the rise.

The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs’ (WASPC) report on Wednesday, April 13, showed vehicle thefts in Grays Harbor County are happening at a much faster pace in 2022.

From Jan. 1 through March 31, 2022, there have been 84 vehicle thefts — with 22 in January, 41 in February, and 21 thefts in March.

While only a quarter of 2022 is past, if the current numbers hold, the end-of-the-year statistics for 2022 would be much worse than 2021, when there were 140 total thefts.

Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Brad Johansson shared some tips for local residents to keep their cars from getting stolen.

“Don’t leave keys in (your) vehicle,” he said to The Daily World. “Keep (your) car locked.”

One way for drivers to make sure their keys are outside of their vehicles is to check their pants pocket, or their purse, for their keys before they press the lock button on the driver’s door panel.

Johansson said drivers should also not leave their cars unattended while “warming it up in the morning.”

Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Office statistics show 10 vehicle thefts were reported to its agency so far in 2022. The sheriff’s office received 33 vehicle theft reports in 2021.

The office received 12 theft reports in 2018, 14 in 2019, and 13 in 2020.

Those thefts were from the county’s unincorporated areas, plus Oakville, which contracts the sheriff’s office for law enforcement services, Johansson said.

Alex Kluh, American Family Insurance Agency owner, talked about what residents can do to avoid discovering their vehicle missing, as well as what they’ll have to do should they find their vehicle stolen.

“I think in general, for a person to keep their property secure, you want to park as close to your home as possible, and in a well-lit area,” said Kluh, who’s worked for AFI since 2014. “Certainly, you don’t want to do anything to draw more attention to your vehicle.”

Johannson said the county does not have a specific high theft area for vehicle thefts.

“We have such a vast area and thefts are spread out,” Johansson said.

Kluh said when property is visible, it could entice someone to want to break in and either steal property from the car and/or steal the car itself.

“Beyond that, unfortunately, there’s not a ton you can do,” he said. “But, certainly, by doing some of those things, keeping possessions out of sight and parking in a well-lit area, are the two main things. Unfortunately, we’re at the mercy of what people are going to do.”

When a person’s car has been stolen, Kluh said the first step is to file a police report. After that, the owner should call their insurance company to start a claim.

“The next step is to try and recall what was in your vehicle, because the (insurance) company will ask,” Kluh said.

While it’s not recommended, Kluh said if a wallet, credit or debit cards, checkbooks, or IDs, were inside the car, they need to be canceled or replaced right away. It’s also smart for people to take inventory of what’s in their purse or wallet, in case that was left in the car.

Kluh said in the event of a vehicle theft, or vandalization, replacement would fall under an insurance holder’s comprehension coverage, depending on their deductible.

“Many carry a $100 deductible, some carry a $500 deductible,” he said.

While a lower deductible has a higher premium, Kluh said a lower deductible is recommended.

Besides, he said, a lower deductible — when it comes to comprehensive coverage — isn’t typically going to increase their premium much.

Luckily, there’s a good chance stolen vehicles will be recovered, Kluh said.

“But, often times, they’re damaged or totaled, something like that,” he said, noting it’s less likely the recovered vehicle would be returned to the owner in the same shape it was when it was stolen.

“Usually in my experience, when a car’s taken, they take it on a joyride and it ends up damaged or involved in an accident in the end,” he said. “At that point, they’re caught, but the vehicle would be damaged or totaled.”

Hoquiam Police Department Chief Jeff Myers said HPD has not yet seen the significant increase in vehicle thefts that the WASPC report shows.

“(But) our officers have had numerous incidents where drivers have refused to stop and started to drive off in an attempt to elude the officer,” he said.

Myers said a challenge is that now officers cannot initiate a pursuit that may include crimes, such as fleeing from a burglary, domestic violence or being in possession of a stolen car.

“We have to stop and let them go,” he said. “For people in our area, who may not have a very expensive or fancy car, and only have liability insurance so they can get to and from where they need to go in a county this large, when their car is stolen, they lose everything. No car, no replacement, no rental, nothing.”

Myers said those with liability only insurance don’t have theft coverage and how they are just “out of luck.”

Johannson said there are numerous anti-theft systems and devices designed to make vehicles more difficult to steal, or easier to trace or recover, such as:

Audible devices — These devices, such as a horn alarm, deter theft by bringing attention to someone attempting to steal, or enter a vehicle.

Visible devices — The use of steering wheel locks, theft-deterrent decals, flashing lights, and window etching.

Immobilizing devices — They prevent thieves from bypassing a vehicle’s ignition system and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some incorporate computer chips in ignition keys or disable the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine.

Vehicle recovery systems — Using electronic transmission technology that help law enforcement reveal the location of stolen vehicles, and possibly catch the thief in the act.

For an additional tip, be like Kluh, who said he makes every effort to not leave items that would attract someone to pursue his vehicle.

“Basically, just, minimize your risk,” he said. “Park in a well-lit area that can be seen from several angles. Don’t park around big trees that provide cover (for a criminal.) Be conscious about the personal items in your vehicle.”