Sep. 23—MOSES LAKE — Grant County was not immune to the rise in reported auto thefts plaguing the state and the nation in 2020.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau's (NICB) Hot Spots Report published in late August, reported auto thefts in Washington State rose 9.6% in 2020 to 37,465 from 34,172 in 2019.
However, in parts of Grant County, the year-over-year increase was around 20%, with the Moses Lake Police Department reporting 84 auto thefts in 2020 compared with 70 in 2019, according to MLPD Capt. Dave Sands.
According to Grant County Sheriff's Office spokesman Kyle Foreman, 129 auto thefts were reported in the unincorporated areas of Grant County in 2020 compared with 106 in 2019.
"While it is an increase, it's not as scary as some," Sands said. "It is bad. And it's been an issue over the last five years."
Sands said car thefts are a difficult matter to deal with since there is no one reason people steal cars. Some people steal cars simply to drive them, while others steal cars in order to cut them up and sell the parts.
"We have seen a rise in catalytic converter thefts," Sands said. "People steal them for the precious metal inside."
A typical catalytic converter will use a precious metal like platinum to convert carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and unburnt hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water.
However, not all places in Grant County have seen auto thefts rise. Quincy Police Department Chief Kieth Siebert said reported car thefts in Quincy fell 10% in 2020 to 27 from 30 in 2019, and Ephrata Police Department Chief Kurt Adkinson said he didn't have any numbers and wasn't aware of a problem in Ephrata.
"I don't have guys coming in the door saying we're getting hammered with stolen cars," Adkinson said. "If anything, we probably recover more stolen cars in Ephrata than are stolen from Ephrata."
Sands said so far this year, 60 cars were reported stolen in Moses Lake, while Foreman said 94 were reported in the unincorporated areas of Grant County. In Quincy, however, Siebert said so far, 12 cars were reported stolen in 2021.
Sands added the numbers reflect what is reported to the dispatcher, and sometimes — such as when someone forgets where they have parked, or a car is loaned, but not returned promptly, or a spouse in a marriage dispute takes a car without permission — a car may end up not being legally stolen after all.
"Those are the gross numbers," Sands said. "They end up not being vehicle thefts in the end."
According to the NICB report, Washington, D.C. is the state with the highest auto theft rate — number of cars reported stolen per 100,000 residents — with a reported rate of roughly 563. Colorado is the second-highest state, reporting 502 cars stolen per 100,000 residents.
The report also said Washington state had the eighth highest auto theft rate in 2020 with 368 cars stolen per 100,000 residents.
In a press release, the Seattle-based NW Insurance Council advised vehicle owners to employ "four layers of protection" — locking cars, adding a car alarm, using a steering wheel lock, and installation of a kill switch or tracking device — to help deter theft or recover a stolen vehicle.
The council also recommended buying a comprehensive auto policy that would help pay to repair or replace a vehicle that is damaged or stolen.
"Comprehensive auto coverage provides peace of mind for vehicle owners," said Kenton Brine, NW Insurance Council president. "If your car is stolen or damaged in a break-in, comprehensive coverage is the key to your recovery, so check with your insurance company or agent to know what's in your policy."