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.

Outright motor vehicle theft has increased in the weeks since the covid-19 pandemic began, said Chief John Teague at a Keizer City Council meeting Monday, April 6.  

Cara Steele, the KPD crime analyst, said thefts from vehicles, known as car clouts in police parlance, are not the stereotypical smash-and-grab.

“Ninety to 95 percent are the result of an unlocked door or open window,” Steele said. “We might see a change if everyone starts locking their car door.”

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 trend is 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),” said Lt. Andrew Copeland.

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 stolen items are cell phones, car chargers, tablet computers, expensive sunglasses, and even loose change. 

Rather than taking such items to pawn shops, the thieves trade them for other goods in private transactions or put them up for sale online at Craigslist or OfferUp. Steele monitors all those spaces after a clout, but often owners are best at recognizing their own property.