Keep an eye on your car

Report: Kootenai County has Idaho's highest rate for vehicle thefts

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COEUR d'ALENE - Roll up the window and lock the doors.

Kootenai County had the highest rate for car thefts in Idaho in 2009, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau's annual Hot Spots Report released Monday.

The report shows that the number of stolen vehicles in Idaho increased by 12 to 1,016 - up 1.2 percent from 2008 and translating to nearly three stolen vehicles per day.

Using the number of thefts per 100,000 residents according to the 2009 U.S. Census Population estimates,

Kootenai County's 204 auto thefts placed the greater Coeur d'Alene area at the top of the list for Idaho with a rate of 146.35.

The higher the rate number, the more car thefts per capita.

"We believe some of the reason for the highest stats in the state last year for vehicle theft is our location," said Sgt. Christie Wood, police spokeswoman. "We are a bedroom community to a large city, Spokane, and we have two major arterials running through the heart of our city with U.S. 95 and Interstate 90."

Those roadways are heavily traveled and tend to bring in higher crime trends, such as drug trafficking, a factor other Idaho cities don't share.

"That impacts crime in a lot of different areas, whether it's drug trafficking or vehicle theft," she said.

Not all of the lifted vehicles are leaving the area. Of the 108 vehicle thefts reported to the police department, 41 were recovered in the city and 28 were recovered outside city limits. The Kootenai County Sheriff's Department had 58 stolen cars reported in 2009 - down from 74 in 2008 - and recovered 40 of them last year.

Kootenai County's rank places it 235th highest on the national list, but Western cities accounted for more than half of the top 10.

Laredo, Texas, earned the highest ranking, with 1,792 stolen vehicles for a rate of 742.22. They were the No. 1 city in 2008 as well.

California cities Modesto, Bakersfield, Stockton and Fresno fished out the top five, respectively. Yakima, Wash., a three and a half hour drive to the southwest of Coeur d'Alene, finished sixth.

The Spokane area placed 18th in the nation for car thefts, according to the report. The Boise-Nampa metro area had 482 vehicle thefts, but ranked 327th in the country and fifth highest in Idaho with a rate of 79.49.

Lewiston was the second-highest theft rated city in Idaho with 80 thefts and rate of 131.92.

Craig Fairfield, supervisory special agent at the National Insurance Crime Bureau for Eastern Washington, Idaho, and Montana, said it's difficult to determine why Kootenai County ranks so high compared to Idaho.

The fact that it's close to Canada probably doesn't factor in, since border agents run license plates on cars attempting to cross.

Older cars are typically the targets, he said, as they are less often equipped with newer tracking devices, and a number of the reports could be "owner give ups" where an owner ditches his or her car and reports it stolen for insurance purposes.

But car thieves frequently "chop up" the stolen cars, meaning they sell the car off piece by piece, he added.

Stolen car reports do affect insurance premiums, said Tim Skelton, State Farm Insurance agent in Coeur d'Alene.

People who try to insure older cars that are stolen at a higher rate might have to pay more.

"There's no question that it's going to increase the rates," he said. "Rates are driven by experience."

The top 10 most frequently stolen cars in Idaho for 2009 were the 1999 Dodge Ram pickup, the 1994 Chevrolet Extended Cab 4x4 pickup, the 1994 Honda Civic, the 2007 Ford F150 pickup, the 1991 Honda Accord, the 1996 Ford Explorer, the 1993 Pontiac Grand Am, the 1991 Chevrolet Conventional Cab 4x4 pickup, the 1988 Ford Ranger and the 1995 Ford Mustang respectively, according to the report.

Local law enforcement said car owners can take a number of preventive measures to help ensure their cars aren't taken, including rolling up windows, locking the doors, and not leaving the car running and unoccupied while warming it up or running errands.

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