At least five vehicles were stolen each day in Sonoma County during the first five months of the year, a sharp spike in what has already been a rise in such thefts since 2013.
The rise of auto theft in the county bucks a statewide trend that shows vehicle theft reports on a two-year decline in California, according to recent statistics from the CHP and the Sonoma County Auto Theft Task Force.
“All of our other numbers are up too; we have more arrests and we file more complaints with the District Attorney’s Office,” said CHP Sgt. Amir Tabarsi, who runs the local task force, a group formed with officers from multiple agencies that assist with and lead vehicle theft investigations in all jurisdictions of Sonoma county.
From January until the end of May, the task force investigated 510 auto thefts compared to 335 reports during the same time period in 2014, according to Tabarsi.
Tabarsi said he could only speculate on the reasons behind the dramatic uptick. Investigations reveal a set of factors, ranging from crimes of opportunity such as so-called “warm-up thefts” when people leave the car running to run into a store, finding it gone when they exit the shop, to criminals who steal cars for use while committing other crimes.
The local task force investigated 785 auto thefts in 2013 and that number rose to 895 last year, a 14 percent jump, he said.
The greatest spike occurred in Healdsburg, where 19 vehicles were reported stolen in 2014 compared to seven in 2013.
Statewide, thefts dropped 7 percent, according to numbers provided by the CHP in Sacramento.
Auto theft was the only crime that researchers connected to Gov. Jerry Brown’s historic realignment of state prisoners to county supervision, a move to reduce prison overcrowding that local officials worried would boost local crime rates.
The Public Policy Institute of California analyzed crime statistics before and after state prisoners were moved to local jails and found that while overall violent and property crimes declined, vehicle theft went against that trend.
“The only effect we can attribute to realignment is a noticeable rise in motor vehicle thefts,” the researchers stated in the report released in May.
The researchers estimated that realignment increased the auto theft rate by slightly more than 70 per 100,000 residents, an increase of about 17 percent, in 2013 compared to 2012.
That doesn’t explain why auto theft rates would drop in some areas of the state in 2014 but rise in others.
Between 2013 and 2014, auto theft decreased in 36 of California’s 58 counties. But that type of theft increased 18 counties across the state, including 14 percent in Sonoma and San Francisco counties, according to the CHP. Lake County vehicle theft rose 1.2 percent.
Auto theft dropped 4.8 percent in Mendocino County and 11.8 percent in Napa County.
Rohnert Park Public Safety Sgt. Jeff Justice said the realignment as well as Proposition 47, which reduced some drug- and theft-related felonies to misdemeanors and took effect in November, are likely contributing to crime rates.
“Some of it can probably be attributed to people being released from prisons early are the people who commit property crimes out on the streets,” Justice said. “Not just here, but everywhere.”