Cyber Maps Track The Auto-Theft Plague

I had one of those “only in Oakland” experiences last month. Car headlights lit up my lower hills street at midnight. I peeked out the window to see and hear an old red Toyota blocking the street, engine running. Problem was that there was no one inside the car.

My inner-paranoid ran through the scenarios: Body in trunk, shooting victim slumped in back seat, front seat full of dope, automatic weapons and cash (if only!), perp playing ‘possum waiting to blast first curious homeowner brave enough to come to car. I knew full well that it was a ditched stolen car but I still did not feel like leaving the house.

So, in the next two hours I called Oakland Police non-emergency five times. The second time I called, the dispatcher claimed an officer had come out and not been able to find the car with lights on, engine running, etc. (I figured it was just a case of inadequate staffing and not exactly a priority situations.) I gave up, went to bed, awoke seven hours later to find the same car with engine still running, still blocking the street. I called again and cops finally came to tow the car.

Auto theft intrigues me. (For the record my Oakland tallies in 14 years: two cars and one motorcycle stolen. All recovered in varying degrees of disrepair.) It’s one of those crimes that is staggeringly abundant. Just read the crime blotter section of the Montclarion or the Piedmonter to see about 30 to 35 thefts per-week for a relatively small geographic area. Oakland’s annual auto thefts were showing nice gains for a decade until 2008 when there was a dip. Keeping tabs on auto break-ins would be next to impossible since likely half of auto-burglaries are likely not reported.

There are two excellent web sites for local crime maps. The first is from the Oakland Police Pick your crime category (ies) and see the tallies for up to 90 days at a time. The City also allows you to sign up for crime notification emails based on parameters you set, say within 1/4 mile of City Hall or 500-feet of a school.

The next is the entertaining Oakland Crimespotting see little green dots all over the City representing auto thefts. I can break it down six ways to Sunday, by crime, by police beat, by time period, etc. I see that there were 67 auto thefts last week, which seems a bit low.

In my next installment you will read about four Oaklanders caught red-handed dismantling a stolen blue Honda, ratted out thanks to a Lo Jack. All four have pleaded guilty to auto theft, and all four have received no jail time but three years probation. The police caught them in the 3700 block of Lyon Avenue, where a search shows that there have been 269 reported auto thefts in the last three months within a mile of the address.