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Richmond neighbors say car prowls shatter peace of mind

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PPB - Portland police are looking for a Dodge Durango they think might have been driven by car prowlers who hit the Richmond neighborhood during the past few weeks. Neighbors have sounded an alarm about a big spike in the number of vehicle break-ins in the area during the past year.Portland police are looking for two trucks they think might be linked to a rash of late-night vehicle break-ins and car prowls that have hit the Richmond neighborhood hard in the past few months.

Richmond neighbors who sounded an alarm about the break-ins hope the police search could end the nightmare of crime in their area.

“We like where we live, and it’s a very unnerving feeling when you think that someone is walking around your driveway trying to break into your car late at night,” says Melissa Howells, who, in an early January email, alerted police and others to the high number of car prowls and break-ins near her Southeast 43rd Avenue home.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, officers with the East Precinct Neighborhood Response Team reported that they were looking for two possible suspect vehicles in the break-ins: a 1998-2000 aqua blue Ford Ranger pickup and a 1998-2003 gray or silver Dodge Durango with a white circular sticker in the lower left rear window.

Both trucks were driven by men about 30 or 40 years old who were caught late at night on neighborhood surveillance photos.

Officers say most of the break-ins were clustered along Southeast Division Street, from 32nd to 45th avenues, and happened between midnight and early morning.


1. Downtown, 690

2. Northwest, 547

3. Pearl District, 518

4. Buckman-West, 375

5. Richmond, 367

6. Hazelwood, 347

7. Hosford-Abernathy, 252

8. Lents, 249

9. Centennial, 236

10. Kerns, 192

Source: 2014 PPB crime statistics

‘Cost me $550’

During the past year, the Richmond neighborhood, the area between 29th and 52nd avenues and Hawthorne and Powell boulevards, has seen a huge increase in vehicle break-ins. According to Portland Police Bureau crime statistics, the neighborhood had 367 reported vehicle break-ins in 2014. That number jumped from 20 reported in January 2014 to 76 in November and 80 in December.

The neighborhood had 144 reported vehicle break-ins for all of 2013. The highest number of break-ins, 18, happened in August 2013.

Even as its numbers spike, Richmond still ranks only about fifth for vehicle break-ins across the city, according to Portland Police Bureau statistics. The downtown area had the most reported vehicle break-ins last year at 690.

Howells has twice been the victim of a car prowl in the past two months. In mid-December, someone tried to break into her car as it sat in her driveway (the car's alarm sent the prowler running, and rattled Howells and her husband from their slumber at about 5 in the morning). On Christmas night, the car’s back window was smashed and someone went through her vehicle looking for something to steal.

“There was nothing for them to take,” she says. “But it did cost me $550 to replace the window.”

Howells’ neighbor has also been the victim of a car prowl three times in the past two months. So have people playing basketball at nearby St. Ignatius Catholic Church and school, where cars in the parking lot after dark have been burglarized, she says.

Impacting peace of mind

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF PPB - Portland police say an aqua blue Ford Ranger pickup could be driven by someone involved in car break-ins in the Richmond neighborhood.In a Jan. 5 email, Howells wrote that neighbors were frightened and angry at the spike in break-ins. “We like and enjoy this neighborhood, as do our children,” Howells wrote. “But this sudden increase in crime worries us, has cost us money and impacts our peace of mind.”

Officer Ryan Mele, who is investigating the car prowl cases with Officer Andrew Hearst, says the East Precinct is working with the Richmond Neighborhood Association and Southeast Uplift to recommend crime prevention techniques, like better outdoor lighting and starting a neighborhood watch program.

Mele says thieves probably aren’t targeting the neighborhood. “But I think the neighborhood is more vulnerable to this type of crime and is being taken advantage of,” he says.

Howells isn’t so sure that the break-ins are just a crime of opportunity. “It feels like too much of a coincidence to me,” she says.

However, Howells is grateful for the quick police response to her email about the break-ins.

“Some of the initial response we’ve had (from the police and the neighborhood association) has been very good,” she says. “But we’ve seen a big spike in crime in our neighborhood. We’d like to see something done about it.”

Officers Ryan Mele and Andrew Hearst want to hear from Richmond neighbors about the break-ins and possible leads on the suspects or the two trucks. Contact them at 503-823-9704; by email, ryan.mele@portlandoregon.gov or andrew.hearst@portlandoregon.gov.