By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Keizer Police Department officials are reminding residents to clear their cars of valuables and lock them up at night because thieves are targeting unlocked vehicles with increased frequency.

There have been at least 167 illegal entries into cars since January, nearly double the amount there was during the same time period last year.

“Especially with the holiday shopping season coming we want people to be more aware,” said KPD Lt. Andrew Copeland.

Cara Steele, the KPD crime analyst, said thefts from vehicles, known as car clouts in police parlance, have been a featured part of her briefings to patrol officers since the beginning of the year.

“Ninety to 95 percent are the result of an unlocked door or window. It’s not windows being broken or locks being jimmied,” Steele said. “We might see a change [in method of entry] if everyone starts locking their door, but it is something we’re tracking and we will notice it.”

The problem with tracking car clouts – and apprehending offenders – is that by the time the crimes are reported and trends emerge, the thieves are long gone and the trends already over.

“We have had some areas hit more than once, but with car clouts it’s very transitory. I can tell you that neighborhoods all over the city have been hit,” Steele said.

Motive also factors into the ability for police to track down suspects.

“You have kids who are bored and go out and check car doors for the thrill. Then you have people who are looking to feed something like a drug habit. Finally, there are people who drive in from another city and just pick a spot that looks target-rich (residential with a bunch of cars),” Copeland said.

Another complicating factor is that some car owners intentionally leave doors to their cars unlocked after cleaning them out so would-be thieves don’t damage the vehicle trying to gain entry. That tactic is something of a double-edged sword for police. Since the victim doesn’t experience a loss, it often goes unreported.

“For us to establish patterns and trends, I have to know what is happening even if nothing is taken,” Steele said.

The most commonly-reported items being taken are cell phones, car chargers, tablet computers, expensive sunglasses, and even loose change.

KPD Deputy Chief Jeff Kuhns said one of the reasons the department is seeking to beef up night patrols is to be more proactive in incidents like car clouts.

“Our graveyard troops love a suspicious person call and we encourage you to call when you see someone who doesn’t belong in a neighborhood or if you see someone checking doors,” Kuhns said.

Neighbors can also help each other by forming Neighborhood Watches. If you don’t have a watch already established in your area, KPD’s community outreach specialist, Dorothy Diehl can help get one started. Diehl can be reached at 503-856-3472 or DiehlD@keizer.org.