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What's behind the continuing spike in Anchorage car thefts?

  • Author: Jerzy Shedlock
  • Updated: September 30, 2016
  • Published February 25, 2016

A rash of vehicle thefts in Anchorage has continued through February after a sharp rise at the beginning of winter, according to the Anchorage Police Department.

The police department reported 266 stolen vehicles from Jan. 1 through Monday, Feb. 22. All but 52 of the vehicles have been recovered.

During November and December, thieves stole a total of 262 vehicles. About 92 percent of those were recovered, said APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro.

"It is something we should all be aware of," Castro said.

The thefts are more about opportunity than the area of town people live in, she said.

APD sent out several alerts in late January about specific vehicle thefts and subsequent arrests. Those alerts reminded Anchorage drivers not to leave their cars running with keys in the ignitions. It's against city law to do so; drivers are only allowed to warm up their vehicles with an auto-start system or any other keyless method.

"If you provide a thief with the opportunity to take your vehicle quickly and easily, it increases the chance that your vehicle could be stolen," Castro said.

The most recent data available shows that in 2014, there were 1,010 stolen vehicles reported in Anchorage, according to Castro. Rough estimates put the monthly average at 80 stolen vehicles, but there are typically more during January and February, she said.

July and August also see more stolen vehicles, as people have the habit of leaving car windows down and engines running while they quickly go inside somewhere, Castro said.

So what's happening to the stolen vehicles? Investigators are trying to determine if unrecovered vehicles are ending up at a "chop shop" -- a garage where vehicles are dismantled.

Some stolen vehicles are simply driven around until they run out of gas; others are trashed and used for what police call "doper vehicles," meaning they're found full of drugs, drug paraphernalia and garbage; and more still are used as getaway cars during other crimes, according to police.

Castro said the police department doesn't have a method for tracking motor vehicle theft arrests. Court records show that nine people have been charged with first-degree vehicle theft in the last week.

Those arrests can prove challenging. On Jan. 26, Faofua Afasene, 25, was arrested for allegedly stealing a Subaru. That arrest came after he rammed a police car, then ran away, only to be apprehended by a police dog, police said.

Besides encouraging residents to prevent vehicle thefts, APD says people should also be mindful of their license plates. Castro said the police department has recently seen more than a dozen cases of stolen plates.

"It's important that people check theirs to make sure the correct one is on," she said. "When is the last time you looked at your license plate to make sure you have the right one on?"