Spike in Auto-Related Crime

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It’s not there. You’re sure you parked your car in that exact spot, and you anxiously pace the parking lot a few rounds. Is your mind playing tricks on you?

This is what went through fourth-year Adrianna Gonzalez’s mind on Feb. 7, when she returned to a parking lot downtown around 9:30 p.m. and couldn’t find her 1997 Honda Civic.

“I was just like, ‘Did I forget where I parked?’” Gonzalez said. “I called the cops and I reported it, but it was around 9:30 p.m. when I called and they didn’t come until 2 a.m. because I guess they were busy or mine wasn’t an emergency. Which, I understand, but that time frame could have made a difference.”

Auto crime rates involving theft and burglary on and off campus spiked in January. Auto theft is the theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle, while auto burglary is theft of property of any value from a secured vehicle.

According to a UC Santa Cruz Police Department (UCSC PD) report, there were 19 burglaries in all of 2014 but 12 burglaries have been reported in January 2015 alone. While there was only one auto theft in January 2015 on campus, there were 37 car thefts in the city.

Car thefts in the city have increased by 42 percent from the 26 thefts in January 2014. There were also 97 auto burglaries in January, a 40 percent increase from the 69 auto burglaries in January 2014.

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Gonzalez paid $1,050 to get her car from impound when it was recovered a week later. She was charged an $85 per day fee for nine days, a towing fee and a fee to pick it up on a Saturday since impound is closed on the weekends.

“I never got a notification that [California Highway Patrol] found my car, which is why I had to pay that fee to get my car out of the towing place,” Gonzalez said. “They never called me to tell me they found it. They had my phone number. What was the point of filing the police report if they didn’t call me? The notice my parents got was from the towing company.”

Similar to Gonzalez, fifth-year Cole Varner had his car stolen in June 2014 near the Westside. He said the person who stole his car sold his license plates, spare tires, jumper cables and power converter and was living in the stolen car. Varner said the person who stole his car was charged with petty theft instead of auto theft, which made him feel like “there was very little justice.”

“I didn’t get anything back,” Varner said. “It just cost $300 to get it out of impound and I had to deal with getting it all back together. It reeked, so it was a big hassle. I was appreciative that I got it back, but nothing about it was easy.”

Santa Cruz Police Department Lt. Bernie Escalante said there’s no current answer to understand why numbers have jumped this past month. Escalante said it’s typical for December and January to have high auto crimes because people often have “visual targets inside their cars,” like holiday presents that give incentive for people to break in.

UCSC PD arrested two people, Emily Kathleen Barnett and Patrick Wayne Sizemore, who are thought to be linked to the recent trend in auto burglaries on campus.

Sizemore was arrested on Jan. 27 on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, possession of burglary tools, possession of stolen property, unlawful possession of a prohibited knife and possession of marijuana.

Barnett was arrested with Sizemore on Jan. 27 but was released after providing a false identity. She was arrested again on Feb. 10 on suspicion of burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, receiving stolen goods, providing false information to a police officer, false impersonation and outstanding felony warrants.

“We believe that the recent auto burglaries are in many ways related to [Barnett and Sizemore] based off of some of the evidence that we located and some of the statements that they made to us,” said UCSC PD Chief Nader Oweis.

The number of auto burglaries connected to Barnett and Sizemore has not yet been confirmed.

Lt. Escalante said it’s difficult to find factual evidence that ties arrested criminals to past auto crimes. According to UCSC PD’s daily logs, there have been no auto crimes reported on campus from Jan. 31 to Feb. 24., but an overnight auto burglary occurred on Feb. 25. It is not proven whether Barnett and Sizemore are also responsible for January’s auto crimes.

“We don’t have the resources, unfortunately, to put a number of people out there in street clothes or in unmarked police cars and have them sit in parking lots all the time,” Escalante said. “We really rely on the community to be engaged and pay attention and report.”