Olympia Police Chief Rich Allen has identified a possible factor contributing to the spike in auto theft cases in the city – TikTok videos.
In the first quarter of 2023, Allen reported 79 auto theft cases in the city, representing a 17.7% increase compared to the five-year quarterly average of 67.1. He added that they are seeing a regional trend increase in car stealing incidents.
At the Community Livability and Public Safety Committee meeting on July 26, the police chief cited a news article highlighting the issue of auto theft involving Hyundai vehicles and the influence of TikTok videos demonstrating easy car theft methods.
"That did contribute to these numbers," Allen commented. "And now that there has been a factory recall and those things have been fixed, hopefully, this number will continue to go down."
During the first three months of the year, Olympia recorded 27 robbery incidents. Of those numbers, nine were related to shoplifting incidents involving the use of force.
Allen explained that robbery encompasses various scenarios, including traditional cases where a person is threatened with a weapon and forced to hand over their belongings and instances where force is used during shoplifting incidents.
The law enforcers made arrests in 65% of the 27 cases.
The city recorded 34 incidents of aggravated assault, a felony case – eight were domestic violence related, and 11 were assaults of officers or transit or hospital staff.
Allen said they were able to make arrests in 75% of those.
The police chief said there are two categories of assault offenses: misdemeanor assault and felony assault. Allen explained that felonies can be classified based on factors such as the severity of injury, the use of a weapon, or the protection of certain individuals.
"If you have a police officer, bus driver, transit worker, or hospital staff, those are automatically felonies," Allen informed the committee members.
Allen noted that the summer months have always posed challenges for enforcement because of higher crime rates occurring at this time of year, which can be attributed to more people being out and about, providing greater opportunities for offenders.
For misdemeanor assault, Olympia had 98 incidents, of which 46 were related to domestic violence.
Incidents of residential burglary have increased by 7% in the first quarter of this year. Of the 41 cases, 17 were linked to domestic violence incidents where suspects violated protection or no-contact orders.
Allen further explained that when a judge instructs individuals involved in domestic violence cases to stay away from a particular residence and disregard this order by entering the house, it is considered a violation and can be charged as residential burglary by prosecutors.
When comparing the first quarter of 2022 to the current year, the police chief said commercial burglaries had significantly improved. The average number of cases remains consistent at around 41.
Out of 40 cases reported, 19 arrests were made, which accounts for approximately 47% of the total cases.
Looking at vehicle prowl incidents, Allen said the city recorded 97 cases, below the five-year quarterly average of 123. "I always take this vehicle prowl statistics with a grain of salt because I don't believe everyone reports them. I think it might be higher."
There are 36 incidents of catalytic converter thefts recorded in Olympia for this year.
The police chief is anticipating a considerable decrease in the second quarter as patrol lieutenants have been actively addressing the problem.
"With the help of our crime analyst and talking with others throughout the region, we identified some local recyclers that have been accepting what we believe are stolen catalytic converters," Allen said.
By approaching the local recyclers, Allen said they obtained a list of individuals selling the stolen converters to them.
"Once we started identifying the people contacting them, we arrested them if they had our arrest warrants. Once we started giving them attention, we tried to build the case on them," Allen said.
The police chief mentioned that the number of cases for the second quarter decreased dramatically – about 13 or 14, which dropped around 72%.
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