Report: Most vehicles reported stolen aren't

Car thefts often are crimes of opportunity

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Many vehicles reported stolen aren't, Northwest Arkansas law enforcement officials said.

Public records at police departments, like the dispatch logs, show several calls a day for car thefts. But calls about possible crimes often aren't what they appear to be. For example, a caller could report he heard gunshots fired, but actually it was a car backfiring.

Stolen vehicles in Northwest Arkansas

Law enforcement has seen an increase in stolen vehicles reported. Many of this year’s numbers have already met or exceeded last year’s.

;Agency ;2015 ;2016 ;2017 as of beginning/mid October

;Washington County ;34 ;47 ;47

;Springdale ;164 ;189 ;189

;Fayetteville ;107 ;101 ;107

;Benton County ;25 ;44 ;50

;Rogers ;52 ;81 ;96

;Bentonville ;68 ;99 ;71

Source: Staff report

Vehicle thefts is a broad label police departments and sheriff's offices use to refer to any stolen vehicle, including motorcycles, trailers and scooters, not just cars and trucks.

Differences in Records

Many of these "stolen vehicles" turn out to be misplaced by the driver or taken by a spouse or child without the owner's knowledge, police said

For example, Fayetteville police received 582 stolen vehicle calls in 2016, according to the call log. Only 101 of those were actually stolen, according to police records. The number of calls has been about five times the number of stolen vehicles from January 2015 to mid-October this year, according to police records.

"It's all pretty normal," Sgt. Anthony Murphy, Fayetteville police spokesman, said about the ratio of reports to stolen vehicles.

Public records of vehicle thefts in Fayetteville could appear higher in the past eight months because of a new computer software program for dispatch and police reports. Murphy said he didn't know for sure, but it's likely stolen vehicles were previously listed as just "theft."

Springdale police designate on the daily dispatch log if a call is a complaint only or if a police report is filed. Last year, 326 thefts of vehicles were listed. Of those, police reports were filed for 189.

Lt. Jeff Taylor, Springdale police spokesman, said a call could be listed as a complaint if someone says his car was stolen but it was repossessed. Sometimes, the person driving the vehicle isn't the owner and didn't realize the owner was behind on payments.

Or it could be an unauthorized use of a car rather than a theft of vehicle, Taylor said. It could be a child took the car without permission or a friend borrowed it and didn't bring it back.

"There are a variety of circumstances that it falls under," he said.

Other law enforcement agencies in the region do not keep tallies of reported stolen versus actual stolen vehicles. Gene Page, Bentonville police spokesman, said 99 vehicles were recorded as stolen in 2016.

"These numbers show the amount of reports taken but are not inclusive of the final outcome," Page said.

Vehicle thefts have risen across Washington and Benton counties, according to police records. A total of 561 vehicles were recorded as stolen by the four major cities and Benton and Washington counties last year compared to 450 in 2015.

Most departments are on pace to exceed last year's numbers. Benton County Sheriff's Office and Rogers and Fayetteville police reported they have surpassed 2016's mark as of mid-October.

Theft of Opportunity

Car thefts often are crimes of opportunity as opposed to planned crimes, police said.

"I know that unattended, running vehicles have been stolen in the past," said Keith Foster, Rogers police spokesman. "My feeling is that most crimes are crimes of opportunity."

More vehicles are taken in the middle of summer and winter than in moderate-weather months, according to data from police departments.

Emily Jones, record coordinator for Fayetteville police, said some people leave their keys in the car during the winter to keep the heat on while they walk inside a gas station, for example.

The percentage of stolen vehicles recovered differs by department.

In Fayetteville, 282 of the 315 -- or almost 90 percent -- of the vehicles stolen since January 2015 were recovered as of mid-October. In Springdale, 57 percent were recovered, and in Bentonville, 61 percent.

In Rogers, about 36 percent of stolen vehicle cases have been "cleared," or solved. Almost 64 percent are still active or suspended, which means "we have followed all leads and are waiting for a break in the investigation," Foster said.

Sheriff's offices recover stolen vehicles out in the counties from other departments which can make recovery numbers greater than the stolen number and thus difficult to compare, said Sgt. Oscar Henson with Washington County's Criminal Investigations Division.

They are usually stolen by local residents and show up somewhere in the county or nearby city, Murphy said.

"It seems like we find them all the time," he said. "They aren't going to chop shops or stuff like that."

Jones said the reasons for car theft vary and so does the recovery time frame.

"Some of it is just kids joy riding, and we find it ditched 12 hours later," she said.

Police said the number one action car owners can take to avoid theft is to lock the car.

"I know it sounds basic, but it works," Foster said.

Rogers police, among many other agencies, push a program called Hide-Lock-Take, which started as an anti-vehicle theft campaign in Dallas.

"The idea is hide your valuables so they are not in plain sight in your car, lock your car when you are away, and take your keys with you," Foster said. "I'm a big believer in prevention -- do all the things you possibly can to prevent your car being stolen."

NW News on 11/05/2017