Anchorage stolen-vehicle sleuths face greater dangers
On Sunday, online crime watchdogs on the Anchorage Scanner Joe Facebook page broke a new record for postings of stolen or recovered items.
"We had 54 posts," Scanner Joe administrator Tisha Victory said. "They involved recoveries, stolen vehicles, stolen property, so it's been a little rough."
With over 53,000 followers, Scanner Joe sees an average of 10 to 15 posts a day dealing with thefts or stolen items being found.
"It's so information can get passed around to everyone else," Victory said. "So everyone can be on the lookout for each other's stolen property. Our community has taken a really big hit right now."
Floyd Hall runs a vehicle-recovery page on Facebook called Alaska Stolen Vehicle Recovery and a sister page, Alaska Stolen Recovery. Hall, whose efforts were recently profiled in The New York Times, sets out to try and recover stolen vehicles and bring them back to their owners.
"I love APD," Hall said. "I'm not a vigilante, I just want to recover people's cars."
Increasingly, however, thieves are resorting to deadly force.
"A concerned citizen was shot at on Thursday night," Hall said. "Another was shot at the next day. Just one round at each. Early Monday morning there was a man who was following his vehicle that was just stolen and they fired about 10 rounds at him. That's three people in less than a week. The thieves are working in teams. They are never alone; there is always backup."
Anchorage police do not encourage the high level of involvement Hall's team recently displayed. While they appreciate the help, they advise people to stay safe and call 911 under the Report Every Dangerous Driver Immediately program.
"We see a great success with the REDDI system," said APD Lt. Jared Tuia. "We want to emphasize that we don't want you engaging with these folks and chasing them down. You're not a police officer, you don't have a license, a siren. Being the best witness you can be is so important."
If you see someone breaking into a vehicle or acting suspicious around vehicles, the best thing to do is call police.
"Get a description of who it is," Tuia said. "Take a look at who's in the driver's seat, who's in the passenger seat, what they are wearing and what vehicle they showed up in. Where they are going and how they leave the parking lot is important too because as our officers are responding, it helps us get to the area and make contact which hopefully leads to an arrest."
Some vehicles are targeted for theft more than others, police say.
"We're seeing a lot of the Chevy Silverados, Chevy Suburbans, GMC products," Tuia said. "A lot of that has to do with the ignitions systems, safety systems aren't very strong in those vehicles."
According to Hall, the most common reason thieves are breaking into vehicles is to get across town.
"That's why they are stealing Yukons or Tahoes," Hall said. "They like to sleep in them; we just recovered one with cotton balls and cigarette butts in it. They use the cotton balls for heroin. If the vehicle is used in a crime the plates are changed or it just gets dumped."
"Our reports on these vehicles is mostly they are being used to transport each other around town, "Tuia said. "It's all circled around using drugs. They're used to go from one side of town to the other to purchase drugs."
When the vehicles are recovered they usually contain a lot of garbage and needles from drug use.
Police urge drivers to take a few simple steps to avoid thefts and minimize their consequences: Park in well-lit areas near the front of buildings, always take your keys with you, don't leave your vehicle unlocked and don't leave spare keys in the center console or glove compartment.
Also, don't leave any of your belongings or bills in plain view inside the vehicle.
"Another thing people don't realize," Tuia said. "Is that by leaving your bills or mail out, the thieves will take that and use that information to steal your identity. Take everything out of your car with you."
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