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What do car batteries and foreclosed houses have in common? Tweekers!

by: Merry MacKinnon While it was parked on a street in Woodstock, this truck’s battery was stolen, in November. Car battery thefts are not common in Inner Southeast, but they do happen. Stolen car batteries may be used for electric power by methamphetamine addicts squatting in foreclosed houses.

In mid-November, sometime in the dead of night, a thief stole the battery from a truck parked on a residential street in Woodstock.

The truck, an old model with a hood that opens from the outside, belongs to Bill Neburka and Rachel Dumont. They reported the theft in the morning, after discovering that not only was the battery missing, but the truck's ground cable was damaged, as well.

'They really did simply rip the battery out, because they damaged the cable that the battery hooks up to,' Dumont commented to THE BEE.

It cost the couple $120 to replace both the cable and the battery. They also paid to have the new battery locked down as a future deterrent. New car batteries generally range in price from $50 to $100.

These days, the motive for car battery theft has an unusual twist - one that is linked to the crisis in the housing market. According to Portland Police Officer Kris Barber of the Neighborhood Response Team, car batteries may be found in foreclosed and vacated houses that have been broken into by methamphetamine addicts, commonly known as 'tweekers'.

'I deal with a lot of tweekers who move from place to place,' Barber said.

In the foreclosed houses in which tweekers have become squatters, the utilities are usually shut off. The stolen car batteries are jury-rigged to serve as electricity sources. 'They'll do all kinds of crazy stuff with them,' Barber remarked.

In one such house, Barber once found 12 car batteries stacked in a closet. 'All had wiring coming out of them for running TVs and lighting,' he said.

A house can be empty for a long time while it's in foreclosure until the deed is transferred, observed Katherine Anderson, crime prevention coordinator for Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement. During that process, squatters sometimes move in uninvited.

'There is a concern about people moving into properties that are vacant,' Anderson said. 'It's happened in all three precinct areas.'

Often, such squatters engage in criminal activity, usually involving drugs. 'They may use the house as a base of operations,' Anderson explained.

Neighbors can take measures to prevent nearby vacant houses from being taken over by squatters. When a property starts to look like it's deteriorating, and the empty house suddenly has questionable occupants who are unknown to other residents, then neighbors should call their police precinct and make a report, advised Anderson.

It's easier for police to deal with the issue if the property owner has signed a trespass agreement, which enables the police to remove squatters from foreclosed houses - and from business properties as well. But obtaining a trespass agreement can be tricky when the owner of the house in foreclosure has walked away from the mortgage and disappeared.

As for car battery theft, Anderson said, it happens - but in Southeast Portland, only from time to time. 'Sometimes car lots have a problem,' she said.

But she emphasized that when a car battery is stolen, it's important to report it to police.

Battery thefts are categorized as 'car prowls', and car prowls are nothing new, agreed Portland Police Officer Terry Colbert, who is assigned to the Neighborhood Response Team that includes Sellwood and Brooklyn. 'But it's not common to take car batteries. More typically, the whole car is stolen - and then they may dump the car and take the battery.'

As for keeping tweekers from stealing the battery right out of your own vehicle, police recommend securing the hood with a lock.