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Car thefts in King County drop 52 percent in seven years

Car thefts in King County have declined 52.3 percent since the inception of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office's Car Theft Initiative in 2005.

When the Prosecuting Attorney's Office and law enforcement launched the Car Theft Initiative, there were approximately 17,700 reported car thefts in King County. In 2011, that number fell to 8,623, according to the Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

That means that there were 9,000 fewer stolen cars in 2011 than in 2005. Using the National Insurance Institute's average claim for loss of $8,600 per stolen vehicle, this decrease reflects a savings of over $80 million dollars to King County insurers over the course of 2011. The savings to citizens, insurance companies, and the overall improvement to public safety have been enormous.

Seven years ago, King County ranked sixth in the nation in the rate of auto theft. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that for 2011, the Seattle-King County metropolitan region ranked 12th for number of stolen cars. The number of auto thefts nationally is also trending down with a 3.3 percent drop from 2010 to 2011. NICB reports that auto thefts nationally are now at the lowest point in the last 45 years.

The Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WATPA) is echoing similar positive trends statewide when it comes to auto theft. WATPA recently released a five-year report covering July 2007 to July 2012. The Authority reports that statewide, auto thefts have declined 43 percent from 2005 to 2011.

In the last five years, the average sentence for an auto thief has more than doubled from 27 months to 66 months in prison. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, a WATPA board member, said the trend is good news for King County and the state.

In 2007, the Elizabeth Nowak-Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority Act was enacted by the Legislature. WATPA provides grant money for assisting law enforcement in investigating and preventing auto thefts in the state. It is funded by a surcharge on traffic infractions.

The Prosecuting Attorney's Office car theft staff includes senior deputy prosecuting attorneys Jim Ferrell and Doug Young, deputy prosecuting attorney Susan Harrison, and assistance from paralegals Mary Heinzen and Janice Schwarz in Kent and Jill Carter and Courtney Claffey in Seattle.

Drivers also are reminded about an auto theft prevention tip for this winter. During periods of cold weather, many people leave their cars running, often unlocked, in their driveways or on the street in front of their homes, and many auto thieves take advantage of these opportunities to steal cars. Help prevent auto theft by not leaving running vehicles unattended.

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