Thefts on the rise in Poulsbo

Police Chief Townsend: "I usually try to remind people to make sure they are locking their cars and taking their valuables out in the spring, because as the weather gets nicer, more bad guys are out prowling cars, etcetera."

POULSBO — The numbers aren’t too dramatic. They may not cause law enforcement to think there is a crime spree. But they do show a trend.

Thefts in Poulsbo are on the rise.

“Thefts are up a bit,” Poulsbo Police Chief Alan Townsend said.

“Crime tends to go up a bit as the weather gets better,” he said. “I usually try to remind people to make sure they are locking their cars and taking their valuables out in the spring, because as the weather gets nicer, more bad guys are out prowling cars, etcetera.”

Whether it’s the mild winter or other factors as contributing causes, what is known is that Poulsbo police officers are responding to a higher number of reported thefts.

In February, there were 32 theft reports in Poulsbo, double the number of thefts reported in February 2014. The number includes reports listed as thefts, burglaries, thefts of motor vehicles, car prowling, shoplifting, and other forms of theft. The accumulative losses from all the crimes put Poulsbo residents out approximately $28,832.

In January, there were 34 reports of thefts, compared to 20 in January 2014. The accumulated estimated losses this January were $74,312.

In December 2014, there were 23 theft reports, up from 16 in December 2013. Last December’s losses added up to $12,383.

And in November 2014, there were 18 reported thefts, down from 27 in November 2013. Thefts from November 2014, however, added up to an estimated total loss of $104,161.

Types of thefts vary, from burglaries to mail theft and more. Townsend said there have been recent trends, such as a car theft and prowling spree that occurred over January.

“One big spike was when we were having the problems with the 7th and 10th Avenue commercial area,” he said. “The bad guys would steal a car on one side and then take the stolen car over to the other side and break into cars. Then reverse the process. One of the problems we have is that people tend to not lock their cars and yet leave valuables inside them.”

Townsend said an arrest was made in the car theft spree, and the suspects are believed to have been involved with additional burglaries in the area, however, police were unable to tie them to those crimes.

“We probably won’t be able to clear those, as the bad guys that were arrested are seasoned criminals and tend not to talk much,” Townsend said.

Shoplifting is another type of theft that Townsend has noticed on the rise.

“We have seen a little bit of an increase in reports on shoplifters in this same area,” he said. “We have tried to encourage the businesses to actually report those for us, even if they don’t want police action. Many times these are repeat offenders and at a point they become felonies. So we have encouraged them to do a better job of reporting.”

Whether check fraud or a burglary, Deputy Police Chief John Halsted has noticed one factor that is common to most crimes.

“Most of these property crimes, especially thefts, are driven by drug addiction. We do have an issue, the whole county does, with people addicted to heroin,” Halsted said, noting that there are a variety of drugs that police encounter on the street, but heroin seems to be the most common.

“We see more heroin than we do meth,” he said. “Heroin is one of those drugs where if someone is an addict, and they don’t get their dose each day, they get really sick. So I think they get more desperate to get the money to buy it. Theft is one way to do that.”

Taking items of value that can be quickly sold is the goal of the thefts, Halsted said.

“A lot of times somebody will shoplift an item and then take it back and return it for cash,” he said. “Vehicle prowls, if they find something inside with value, they can sell it to people in the street or take it to a pawn shop and pawn it. We’ve been able to solve cases by finding it at the pawn shop.”

Halsted said many of the car prowl reports have been for cars left unlocked with valuables inside, such as GPS devices or purses. He also said that time of day is a factor in certain types of crimes.

“A lot of times (burglaries) are during the day. They will knock on the front door. If there is no answer they will go to the back and kick the door in,” he said. “Being more vigilant, reporting suspicious behavior, is helpful. If you see people at your neighbor’s house knocking on the door, acting suspicious, call 911.”

November 2013: 27 thefts
November 2014: 18 thefts, estimated loss $104,161

December 2013: 16 thefts
December 2014: 23 thefts, estimated loss $12,383

January 2014: 20 thefts
January 2015: 34 thefts, estimated loss $74,312

February 2014: 16 thefts
February 2015: 32 thefts, estimated loss $28,832

— *Estimated loss is the sum of all reported losses from thefts.

UPDATE: After initial publication of this story, Mayor Becky Erickson has clarified that there was a change in reporting practices for shoplifting. Whereas previously many incidents of shoplifting were reported directly to the prosecutor and not Poulsbo police, those crimes are now reported to local authorities. This may cause a jump in shoplifting numbers this year, therefor not accurately reflecting comparisons with that type of theft.