Seattle detective speaks candidly about increase in car thefts this year

May 2, 2016, 8:56 AM | Updated: 10:57 am

Car thefts in Seattle are likely committed by the same small group of people, according to one detective close to the cases.

The West Seattle Blog reports that car thefts in King County have gone up by 18.9 percent during the first four months of 2016 compared to the first four months of 2015 — from about 2,500 to about 2,900.

Despite the uptick in stolen cars so far this year, the figures are actually much better than in 2005 when Seattle had about 10,000 cars stolen in the entire year. That’s what Detective Scotty Bach notes on a video presentation to the West Seattle Block Watch Captain’s Network. The video was produced by and posted on the West Seattle Blog.

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Bach speaks candidly with the West Seattle crowd, noting stats such as the fact that cars are more often stolen on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. He also provides a sobering look into car thefts around Seattle.

“It’s the same people, the few people, that commit all these crimes,” Bach says on the video. “They steal a car, go four blocks and they prowl it. Steal another car, go four blocks and prowl it — and they go on a rampage like that.”

Cars are more often stolen in Seattle for joy rides and for prowling, according to the detective. But drugs can often play a part in the crimes.

“They do sell them,” Bach said. “They will steal a car, go up to Aurora, and meet their drug dealer and give the car for $200 in meth or heroin.”

But Bach has been able to successfully negotiate with thieves on his beat and solve the cases with their help. He says he shows up in plain clothes, an unmarked car, and starts by talking with people, getting to know their story and then takes it from there.

“I have people that have stolen 100 cars in a couple months and then they take me around to all these cars and show me where they are,” Bach said. “People think I’m crazy, or that I do something to make them confess — I take them to Dick’s every time, I provide them cigarettes and Coca-Cola, and they confess every time. I don’t know why, but they do.”

Bach also had a couple of other tips for the block watch captains. First, don’t leave keys in the car. It sounds basic, but it happens. When it does, there’s little cops can do to catch the thieves because police have to prove the suspects had knowledge the car was stolen.

“If you leave a key in the car, all they have to say is that is that ‘little Johnny gave me the car for $200,’” Bach said. “There is no way I can prove they stole that car … no way. The prosecutor will drop it every single time. And they learn this through their defense attorneys and through their jailhouse talk. If you got a car with a key, you’re as good as gold.”

The other piece of advice is for owners of ’90s and earlier models of Nissans, Toyotas, Subarus, Hondas, and Saabs. Thieves can easily use what are called “jiggler keys” on these models. These keys can be purchased for cheap online and basically are used by trying model key after model key and jiggling it until a lock is opened. They are often used by locksmiths.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of thefts in the first four months of 2016.

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Seattle detective speaks candidly about increase in car thefts this year