my car before being stolen

My 1998 Honda Civic, just after I first got it, and before it was stolen (and recovered) and later broken into twice. 

Noel Brinkerhoff, Eagle

Having a car stolen, an issue that’s dear to my heart, has become a problem for American Canyon, just like the rest of California.

Statistics show auto theft is up significantly in American Canyon, according to American Canyon Police Chief Tracey Stuart.

Last week, Stuart presented the findings of her department’s annual report for 2016 to the City Council. She had plenty of good news to share.

Overall, crime was down in most categories last year in American Canyon, Stuart said. Additionally, her department posted some good numbers on solving crimes, known as clearance.

For instance, the statewide clearance rate for violent crime is 45.8 percent. But American Canyon police had a 62 percent rate. Local officers also cleared 37 percent of property crime reports, which was above the California rate of 12.6 percent, according to Stuart.

But in one crime category — auto theft — the number of occurrences last year was up. And it appears to still be going up based on early 2017 numbers.

In 2016, auto theft incidents rose 21 percent. Stuart said there were 56 reports of vehicles being stolen.

This year, so far, American Canyon has had 16 reports. At that pace the city would experience nearly 100 cases of auto theft, almost double the 2016 total.

“That is a skyrocketing crime happening rather frequently,” Stuart told the City Council.

Council members asked the chief who or what was behind the rash of auto thefts, if gangs of car thieves had descended on American Canyon.

“It’s a hodgepodge of everything,” she explained. In some cases it might be those working for a chop shop stealing cars for specific reasons, such as for part, she said.

But, “mostly it’s people stealing a car for a few days and ditching it or getting caught with it,” she said.

The culprits often are individuals needing a car “to run their dope or go do a burglary and not use a car that’s theirs.”

Stuart also noted that her officers sometimes catch the same car thief two or three times because they keep getting off “now it’s a misdemeanor” for auto theft in California.

“I think we’re seeing the same crooks over and over again who used to go to jail” for their crimes who are on a “repeat probation cycle,” said Stuart.

Her last remark sounded awfully familiar. It described exactly what I experienced last year when I had my car stolen in San Francisco.

My old Honda disappeared at the hands of a woman with a history of methamphetamine addiction and a rap sheet filled with previous car thefts.

She was caught three days later driving my car in the city. It was, as they say an open and shut case. No doubt who was responsible for the crime.

But that didn’t mean serious punishment was handed down.

Like Stuart said, auto theft is now a misdemeanor, down from being a felony. Car thieves often serve a few weeks in county jails before being let out and put on probation.

My thief was already on probation for her prior convictions of breaking into and stealing people’s cars when she took mine.

She wound up serving 39 days of incarceration at the San Francisco County Jail for heisting my Honda, and after that, was put on probation, again.

The criminal justice system is offering no serious deterrent to car theft.

It’s not surprising then that these cases are rising in number in American Canyon, just as they have throughout California.

Last year, it was reported that eight of the top 10 “hot spots” for car theft in the nation were located in California, according to National Insurance Crime Bureau data reported by Forbes.com.

The eight California hot spots were: Modesto, Bakersfield, Salinas, San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Stockton-Lodi, Merced, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and Vallejo-Fairfield.

Note that American Canyon’s neighbor made the top 10. Vallejo is often blamed for crime that spills over into American Canyon, due to the proximity of the two communities.

That’s not to say Vallejo is entirely to blame for American Canyon’s car theft problem. Fairfield, Oakland, Hayward and San Francisco also rank high for this crime, making it in part a regional concern as well as a California one.

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