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Recovering Stolen Vehicles: Fewer Stops, Better Outcomes

Blog Post
Sergeant Nutting, Officer Terrett and Dr Tyner
The Portland Police Bureau is using evidence-based practice methodology to greatly increase the chances of stopping occupied stolen vehicles.
Published

For almost 18 months, members of the Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct have been conducting Stolen Vehicle Operations (SVOs). During these operations, members work on overtime with the sole purpose of locating stolen vehicles that are actively being driven within the community. Besides the fact that Portland recently ranked fifth in the nation for car thefts per capita, these officers recognized the need to focus on stolen vehicles actively being driven because they noticed the clear trend of vehicle theft being a precursor to other, usually more violent crimes. Here are a few such examples:

On Sunday, September 18, 2022, officers from East Precinct responded to a stolen vehicle call in the area of Southeast 49th Avenue and Southeast Powell Boulevard in which the victim's child was asleep in the car. An Amber Alert was issued. Officers later located the vehicle, with the 7-year-old girl still asleep inside, a few hours later in the area of Laurelhurst Park. (Video Debriefing of September Amber Alert Call - YouTube)

Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B78hf0hdSDs

On Wednesday, October 19, 2022, two students were shot outside of Jefferson High School. The suspect vehicle was recovered nearby after it was involved in a crash. Officers discovered it to be stolen.
 

Crashed Car in the middle of the street
Photograph: Crashed Car

On Monday, November 21, 2022, East Precinct officers responded to a string of burglaries in which stolen vehicles were used to crash into marijuana dispensaries to gain entry. The thieves would enter, take product, and then flee in a second stolen vehicle. Three teenagers were arrested after committing similar burglaries in the 9200 Block of Southeast Woodstock Street, the 4100 Block of Southeast 60th Avenue, and 10000 Block of Southeast Division Street.

Car crashed into building
Photograph: Car into Building


After their first five missions over a four-month period, members conducting Stolen Vehicle Operations recognized the room for improvement. To address this, they began collecting and analyzing characteristics of stolen vehicles in the community. This included both vehicles that were found to be stolen and those that were not. Officers' meticulous efforts led to the collection of multiple data points that could then be analyzed. The analysis provided officers patterns, that, in and of themselves, or in combination with others, greatly increased the chance that a moving vehicle was more likely to be stolen based on data collected.

In order to ensure these missions were informed and data driven, PPB SVO leadership then approached Dr. Jeffrey W. Tyner, Ph.D., a scientist and professor at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, School of Medicine. Dr. Tyner and his team agreed to review both the data and methodology. As a result of this continuing collaboration, Dr. Tyner and his team of scientists have provided valuable peer review and ideas used to improve the process.


Evidence-based practices that have been refined through the unique collaboration with OHSU have dramatically increased the team's success. In the non-evidence-based practice missions conducted by the SVO team, only one in every 31 vehicles stopped was an occupied stolen (1:31), and the arrest ratio was one in every six (1:6), with a gun being found in one out of every 144 vehicles being stopped (1:144). In the missions conducted after the evidence-based practices were applied, the number of stops decreased, but the likelihood of finding a stolen vehicle being actively driven greatly increased. Now, one in every six vehicles stopped by the team is a stolen (1:6), someone is arrested once in every three stops (1:3), and a gun is found in one out of every twenty-six tops (1:26).

Photograph: Evidence-Based Practice Table
Photograph: Evidence-Based Practice Table


“East Precinct Officers, Sergeants and Lieutenants noticed a need in the community to combat stolen vehicle theft and their use in additional crimes in our Precinct," said East Precinct Commander Erica Hurley. "Together they created these remarkable stolen vehicle missions that went from good to great with the use of data driven policing. This is an example of the dedicated hard work and creative problem solving from East Precinct Officers.”

Although they continue to work on improvements, East Precinct's Stolen Vehicle Operations have achieved their goal of "Less Stops, Better Outcomes."

“It is important to note that this initiative started with an officer and then others who saw the significant negative impacts of stolen vehicles in our community,” said Chief Chuck Lovell. “Collaborating with an outside entity that can help us achieve better results is successful community policing. I want to thank those at the Knight Institute for their ongoing assistance and commend the members of East Precinct for starting and improving on these efforts to not only recover stolen vehicles, but decrease violent crime.”

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