SEATTLE — Seattle Police Officer Matt Saul was just a few blocks from the South Precinct Thursday when he hit his brakes.
A Honda station wagon, parked askew in the NewHolly neighborhood. Saul called in the plate and the dispatcher told him – it had been stolen in Tukwila.
It was the 13th stolen car Saul had located in less than two weeks.
Seattle police say its South Precinct, which encompasses the Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, Georgetown and other neighborhoods south of downtown and Capitol Hill, has always been a hotspot for stolen and abandoned cars.
“When I got here, like I say, 18 months ago it was a problem and over the past year it got even worse,” said Precinct Capt. Kevin Grossman.
In 2017, 772 cars were reported stolen in the south precinct, in 2018, that number rose to 904, Grossman said.
Grossman said he’s asked his patrol officers to hunt for stolen cars when they’re not busy responding to 911 calls.
“Shots fired, crimes related to gun crime is my number one,” Grossman said.
But he quickly added that tracking stolen cars, and helping people avoid having their cars stolen, is something he wants to make a high priority as well.
“I have had my car stolen, it’s a pain, right. It’s how you get to work, it’s how you get to school, it’s how you pick up the kids,” Grossman said. “Those 1990s era cars, I myself own a 1996 Honda Accord because it’s a good car, but it’s more likely to be stolen.”
Grossman said officers will soon be handing out free steering-wheel locking devices, like the Club, due to a grant from the Seattle Police Foundation.
He said he has also brought in a second automatic license plate reader to make it easier, and faster, for officers to search for stolen cars.
Officer Joe Macniak, who drives one of these vehicles, says the first thing he does at the start of his shift is flip on his license plate reader. Through the course of the day it can scan thousands of plates.
“There was one week I found one every shift the whole week, so we’re, pretty frequently, finding stolen cars,” Macniak said. “It will capture cars that are driving towards me, cars that are behind me.”
Saul, who has been with the department less than two years, found two stolen cars Thursday. On Tuesday and into early Wednesday, he found three stolen cars and arrested two people.
“Sometimes you can drive down the street and predict it,” Saul explained.
“Most people only have one car; you’re relying on it to get to work to school, to get your family to and from places,” Saul said. “The level of intrusion is pretty significant.”