Damaged car

This vehicle was found damaged on Robinson Street in late August. It was not known if it had been stolen.

Vehicle thefts have been on the rise in the Tehachapi area, with 40 reported to the Tehachapi Police Department in 2018, with 12 of those happening just last month in August.

Those numbers were provided by city of Tehachapi Community Engagement Specialist Key Budge.

These numbers are up from the 13 car thefts reported to TPD in 2016 and 30 in 2017. However, car thefts are something that can go up and down, said Sgt. Steve Battistoni of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office Tehachapi Substation.

Budge, who was sharing information provided by TPD Police Chief Kent Kroeger, said the majority of vehicle thefts in the area appear to be transportation-related, with people stealing cars to reach a destination and dumping them. They are also primarily occurring at night in residential areas or in parking lots.

“I think a lot of times, they’re stealing these cars for necessity,” Battistoni said.

Battistoni said that although KCSO has handled fewer thefts, it has seen the same trend. When the vehicles are recovered, they have not typically been stripped of parts for resale.

Cars have also been recovered in Tehachapi that were stolen in Bakersfield, driven out of town and dumped, Budge said.

Vehicle thefts are not a new problem in Kern County and the Central Valley. The National Insurance Crime Bureau ranked Kern County the sixth highest hot spot in the nation for vehicle theft in 2017 after ranking third the prior two years.

Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the NICB, said that across the Central Valley, transportation-related thefts and stripping for parts are common. He said the cars can also be used in crime and that thefts have been correlated to the prevalence of drug use.

“A lot of times, it’s repeat offenders,” said Battistoni regarding the cases he has seen at KCSO.

The TPD has so far arrested 12 people on suspicion of grand theft auto, of whom two were arrested “multiple times for multiple car thefts,” Budge said.

Scafidi also explained how crime trends like vehicle theft can spread from cities into outlying areas, and that smaller communities “not used to that kind of activity” may not show the same attentiveness as people in larger cities.

“We see a lot of thefts every year where people run in the store for a couple of minutes ... and boom, the car’s gone,” Scafidi said.

Budge said people sometimes cannot account for where their keys went. In Battistoni’s experience, people often assert they are certain their keys were not left in the car.

“The big thing that occurs coming up here in winter, people like to warm up their cars …. if you come back out it could be gone,” said Budge, who added that whether at the store or parked in a home driveway, the car is at risk of being taken.

However, keys do not have to be left in the ignition for a car to be stolen. Budge said shaved keys are commonly used to steal cars, not to mention that some cars are simply easier for them to take.

According to data compiled by the NICB, the Honda Civic is the most frequently stolen car this year in both Kern County as a whole and specifically in Tehachapi. More than 300 have been stolen so far this year.

“You have to assume someone is watching and looking for an opportunity to steal your car. It’s frustrating for us. We are trying to increase our presence at night and in parking lots to deter this crime,” Kroeger said.

Budge said some tools for preventing your car from getting stolen include parking in well-lit areas, rolling windows up, knowing where your keys are and installing an anti-theft device.

Other preventative measures recommended by the NICB include steering wheel and brake locks, identification markings on the vehicle and tools like smart keys, which eliminate the possibility of hotwiring.