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Cops say all cars susceptible to theft

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SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - It may seem that your car is its own security system, being a banged-up old beater from the time when cassette tapes were the height of sophistication.

Not so, say local police. No matter how undeserving your ride may be of a $6 wash and wax, it's still a target for vehicle theft or burglaries.

On Monday, Jan. 31, Jaguars and jalopies alike were hit at the Preston Park and Ride. A King County Sheriff's deputy and troopers with the Washington State Patrol reported to the scene where one male was arrested for breaking into four cars and attempting to steal another. Also sitting in the lot was a car stolen from Bellevue that had been dumped with a stolen firearm inside.

It's not that car prowlers are more prevalent in the Valley, said Ross Fukuda, a detective with the King County Sheriff's Office. It's all of King County that's infested with them, he said.

"Just listening to the north county radio, they're all over the place," Fukuda said. "The best thing people can do is just use their common sense."

Many car prowlers go to apartment complexes and shopping centers to prey on unattended cars that may be teeming with goods. Fukuda said it's not uncommon for cars to be broken into while a shopper is in a store, especially during the holiday season when trunks and back seats make the happiest of hunting grounds for creepy crooks watching and waiting for shoppers to deposit their newly purchased merchandise.

"There might be some bad guy sitting in the car next to them going, 'Hmm ... OK,'" Fukuda said.

Not surprisingly, common sense is the best policy when trying to prevent break ins. Still, many people still think it's OK to leave their cars unattended for long periods of time.

"First of all, we've got to think about where we're leaving a car. If it's in a deserted place, we might want to think about not leaving our car there, nothing in plain view," said Fukuda, who noted unmanned vehicles left at trail heads around the Valley have been targets for theft because people often leave purses and briefcases behind when hiking.

"That doesn't make a lot of common sense," Fukuda said. "Another thing we are really fearful of is people who leave their firearms in their cars."

There are people who have no choice but to leave firearms in their vehicles, Fukuda said, but there are ways to do this responsibly. The firearm should be hidden in a locked container such as a gun box, and then locked in the vehicle's trunk or glove box - and it should be unloaded.

Park and rides, though handy, can be a jackpot for thieves when commuters leave their cars in lots overnight.

"You don't want to leave cars overnight anywhere that's open, somewhere that it's all out there by itself," Fukuda said. "Park and rides are made for people who use the bus system, not for leaving cars for any extended periods of time."

Fukuda suggests leaving a car at a friend's house, or having someone drop you off if you don't want to drive to your destination. Deputies stationed at the North Bend Substation of the King County Sheriff's Office still perform house checks, upon request, for residents of the city who need to leave their homes and cars for extended periods of time. Those interested may call the sheriff's office and notify personnel as to when they'll be leaving and when they'll return.

These days there are many ways to break into cars, Fukuda said. The thieves in the Preston car caper used hammers to break windows in some of the cars, others had simply been left unlocked or open. Slim jims, screwdrivers and keeping a huge ring of random keys are just a few other favorite tools and techniques of the trade.

"They actually have tools they use to force into your car ignition, punch that out and then use a screwdriver to get the tumblers rolling and start up your car," Fukuda said. "Most of the newer models are not as susceptible to that type of stealing, though."

Fukuda noted Hondas and Toyotas seem to be especially sweet steals for auto thieves, but that basically, "They're all being stolen."

Rebecca Munson of the Snoqualmie Police Department said stolen cars are often dumped in rural areas, such as the Valley, but she doesn't feel there are more vehicle thefts here than elsewhere in the county. There were 14 vehicle thefts in Snoqualmie during 2004. During that same time, 26 thefts of items inside vehicles were made in the city. All kinds of cars were hit, Munson said.

"We surmise it's probably kids walking around at night, bored," she said. "It's all over, up on the Ridge, too."

Staff writer Melissa Kruse can be contacted at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at melissa.kruse@valleyrecord.com.

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