City of Ukiah, California

Police Department

Safety · Professionalism · Community Service

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Auto Theft

The couple said they just stood there for five minutes, not believing it–their car was gone. They were expecting a prankster to come back anytime with the car.

They were at a service station near their house. They had just stopped for gas and a cup of coffee before heading out to go shopping, and had left the car running to defrost the windshield while they ran into the station.

They said it over and over: they were only gone for three minutes.

But when they got back to where their car had been, it was gone. Vanished. They had no idea what to do next. Their car had his wallet, her purse, and even the cash from their Christmas savings account.

Their car was now gone, their identities stolen, and they had a growing list of things that needed to be done: call the insurance agent; call the credit card companies; and call the police to file a report. They looked at each other and realized that they couldn’t even remember their license plate number. Ugh!

In stunned disbelief, the couple walked back into the gas station and asked the clerk to call the police. When the police arrived, the officer asked questions to file a report.

“What’s the car look like? What’s the license plate? Any suspect description? Was the car locked?” the officer asked. 

“No, it was running,” the couple said, “we only went into the store for a minute to get some coffee.”

Even in Ukiah

Here in Ukiah, auto thefts have increased significantly.

During Pumpkinfest weekend, a Ukiah-based car thief driving a stolen car caused a horrific, four-car, hit-and-run, rollover traffic collision. The thief stole the car from an open garage and was later involved in that collision, in which a number of people were injured.

And, during Halloween weekend, the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) recovered three stolen vehicles in a two-day period, arresting a number of suspects.

One of those recovered vehicles was found on Halloween morning. This car had been stolen a week earlier from a hotel on Orchard Ave. In this case, the victim had left his car open and the keys in the car while he took an oxygen tank to his room. When he returned, the car was gone.

A week later, an officer observed the car being driven in town. After an extensive foot chase, the UPD officer arrested a 20-year-old and charged him with auto theft, resisting arrest, possession of methamphetamine, possession of heroin, and violation of his probation.

Another of those stolen vehicles recovered Halloween weekend was used during an incident in which the suspect used a loaded handgun to threaten a person walking her dog near the Alex Thomas Plaza. The stolen vehicle was later recovered and our officers arrested the suspect (who was already on probation).

If someone had asked me five years ago if they should be worried about their car being stolen here in Ukiah, I would have responded that our small town does not have many cars stolen. But today, I am sorry to say, our community has had to deal with more and more big city problems. 

To avoid having your car stolen, here are some tips that should help:

Auto Theft Trends

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tracks stolen cars. They reported nearly 74 percent of all vehicles taken in 2011 were passenger cars, and that more vehicle thefts occurred in California than any other state.

The top ten cars stolen were:

1 – Dodge Charger
2 – Pontiac G6
3 – Chevrolet Impala
4 – Chrysler 300
5 – Infiniti FX35
6 – Mitsubishi Gallant
7 – Chrysler Sebring
8 – Lexus SC
9 – Dodge Avenger
10 – Kia Rio

The NHTSA says that if you think parking your car at home is safe, “think again.” It’s no safer than parking in a parking lot or garage, on a road, or in an ally. Thieves are always on the prowl, canvassing these places. Breaking into homes just to steal car keys is becoming more common. Federal Bureau of Investigation reports show that more than three out of four cars are stolen from areas we consider “safe” – our home garage or in front of our house.

The NHTSA recommends that drivers use common sense when parking and exiting cars:

  • Always take your key, don’t leave it in or on your vehicle.
  • Always close and lock all windows and doors when you park.
  • Park in well-lit areas.
  • Always keep your vehicle in your garage, if possible.
  • Never, ever leave valuables in your vehicle, especially where they can be seen.
  • Never, ever leave the area when your car is running.

Along with stealing the entire car, many auto thefts involve stealing parts. Radios and fancy wheels are not the only thing thieves will steal. Thieves want, and will steal, anything that can be sold. From air bags to seats and spare tires, thieves will sell anything that can re-sell on internet sites such as Craig’s List or e-Bay.

Preventing Auto Theft

To help prevent your car from being stolen, the NHTSA recommends that people protect their vehicle with an antitheft system or device that is designed to make vehicles more difficult to steal and – in the event they are stolen – easier to trace and recover.

Audible and visible devices are helpful in preventing theft. An audible alarm, hooked up to your car horn, can help bring attention to your vehicle if someone tries to steal it. And, a steering wheel lock also deters potential thieves.

If you’re buying a new car, ask about having an immobilizing device installed. These devices incorporate computer chips in ignition keys, which help prevent the car thief from hotwiring or bypassing your ignition system.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, thieves will find a way to steal your vehicle. Some carmakers are installing devices that use cell-phone and GPS technology to aid in recovering your vehicle. This technology is extremely helpful to law enforcement in finding and recovering your vehicle if it is stolen.

I wish we could prevent auto thefts, but the fact is, today Ukiah is facing a number of problems that we have never experienced: higher crime, increased drug activity, increased transients, and increased thefts. If there were one single tip I could provide to help prevent car thefts, it is to always lock your car and never leave the keys in the vehicle.

We hope that these tips help make Ukiah a safer place. Our police officers have an ever-growing list of responsibilities, but will do all they can to be available whenever you need them.

As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website:  

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Safety · Professionalism · Community Service