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Rap against Auburn for being a car-theft center undeserved, says police chief

Auburn has a reputation for being a dicey place to park one's car.

Honda Accords and Honda Civics are particularly juicy peaches among the thieving set, consistently topping the list of models stolen, according to state crime statistics.

But that rap against Auburn as some south-end car-theft haven is undeserved, said Auburn Police Chief Bob Lee.

Indeed, Lee told the Municipal Services Committee on Monday afternoon, Auburn's numbers are in line or below what's happening in other south-end cities of comparable size, including Kent, Federal Way and Renton.

As of January 2014, thieves had stolen 49 cars in Auburn, compared to 92 in Renton, 93 in Federal Way and 76 in Kent.

Like every other police agency in the state, the Auburn Police Department reports its crime statistics yearly to the Washington Association of Sheriff's and Chiefs.

And the good news is that as far car thefts go, the numbers are down considerably from what they once were.

In 2004, the cities of Auburn, Kent and Federal Way each averaged more than 1,000 car thefts every year. Across the state, in 2005, the bad guys drove off with more than 41,290 cars.

But in 2005, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg launched his Car Theft Initiative. Starting with his first Auto Theft Task Force in Redmond, prosecutors began throwing the book at car thieves, combining multiple thefts and getting stiffer sentences.

County prosecutors also formed regional task forces to work hand in hand with other cities, including Auburn.

Satterberg said that as of 2012, car thefts across King County had declined 52.3 percent from 2005. By 2013 efforts had cut the number of 41,290 to 25,737 auto thefts statewide.

Between 2004 and 2013, the average of car thefts in Auburn had dropped to 643, including a low of 369 in 2009.

In 2013, Auburn arrested 115 for people either possession of, or theft of an auto.

None of that just happened, Lee said.

"They really started prosecuting auto thieves to the full extent and combining multiple thefts, and getting some good (prison) time for those people," Lee said.

Most of the car thefts are still committed on King County's south end, Lee said. For instance in 2013, Kirkland, with a population close to 80,000 people, had 155 car thefts, and Bellevue had 240.

"The best prevention for auto theft is ... clean out the garage, and park the car in the garage. That cures it right there," Lee said.

Lee is one of two police chiefs former Gov. Christine Gregoire assigned to the Washington Auto Theft Prevention Authority (WAPTA), which includes two sheriffs and the head of the Washington State Patrol. The WAPTA board, which is funded with $2.58 of every $10 collected as a surcharge on traffic infractions, has $5.2 million to disperse to task forces throughout the state to help with the effort.

As of 2013, here are the 10 top most frequently stolen vehicles in the Auburn area.

1. Honda Accord

2. Honda Civic

3. Acura Integra

4. Toyota Camry

5. Ford F-series trucks

6. Subaru Legacy

7. Honda Prelude

8. Saturn SL

9. Nissan Altima

10. Nissan Sentra

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