Car theft victims create a network to find stolen cars

Image for article titled Car theft victims create network to fight back

Photo: Salgu Wissmath/San Francisco Chronicle via AP) (PA)

The figures for 2022 are not yet (obviously), but it seems America is still suffering from a wave of car theft, as well as the theft of catalytic converters. Victims in Portland, Oregon have had enough, taking the situation into their own hands.

The New York Times has a story about a growing group of people who have stepped in, where law enforcement has failed. They turn to each other and social media to track stolen vehicles.

Neighbors share photos of license plates, track trips to work, and search online for reports of stolen vehicles.

Almost every day, the group, PDX Stolen Carshelps a resident reconnect with a vehicle in Portland or surrounding suburbs.

“It’s an army, and it’s exploding,” said Victoria Johnson, who joined the group after someone drove off with her SUV while she was helping at the scene of a car accident. “It feels good for the body to give back and help.”

The PDX Stolen Cars Facebook group now has nearly 12,000 members as of this writing. Members often come to the group as victims themselves, but remain as amateur sleuths searching for stolen cars. Members scour neighborhoods, industrial parks and homeless camps looking for missing cars or cars that seem unusual or suspicious. Sometimes the cars they find are so badly damaged that they are only identifiable by VIN.

When members find a car, there is no reward money. There’s no revenge or vigilance and, often, there’s no glory, as the Facebook page is filled with images of burnt-out cars, cars with interiors ripped off, or just run over and abandoned. Occasionally, however, owners are reunited with their vehicles:

A man was able to recover a cherished motorcycle which he uses to honor veterans at military funerals. The group located the stolen car of a police officer’s wife.

Ms Johnson found the group after she lost her Lincoln Navigator during the roadside stop and went online to search for a way to find them. She didn’t stop there and drove a meticulous grid through the area where her vehicle had been taken.

She couldn’t find it, but she spotted another man’s vehicle that had been assigned to the group, which helped her retrieve it. A few days later, that same man texted with a surprise: He had found Ms Johnson’s vehicle. She now spends several days a week checking her area for stolen cars and says she has discovered several.

The reasons for the surge in car thefts seen across the country are varied. supply chain issues are making cars (and auto parts) more valuable than ever, the added pressure of inflation is making crime more attractive, and personnel issues within the police department are overwhelmed with cases more violent. Portland’s problems are not unique; police across the country are reporting a higher than usual number of car thefts, Car and driver reports, although we are still far from the bad old days of the ‘90s.

These types of thefts often hit the people who can least afford the hassle. Older cars are often the first to roll off the street with Affordable (and Highly Theftable) Kias and Hyundais. Even if the whole car does not disappear, the catalytic converter is also at risk – an unexpected and expensive repair that can cost hundreds of dollars.

Discover the full report of a brave citizen help each other here.

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