A Poulsbo man who walked outside Wednesday morning to see his SUV driving away with a thief behind the wheel fired about five shots, at least the second shooting in Kitsap County over a stolen car since February.
“We don’t believe the vehicle was shot or anybody was injured, but the vehicle is still unaccounted for,” said Poulsbo Police Chief Ron Harding.
The shooting was reported at 5:50 a.m. near NE Lincoln Road and NE Kevos Pond Drive. Police recovered five .380 caliber shell casings and found divot marks in the dirt. Harding said the man, in his 50s, told investigators he fired at the ground, not at his 2019 Toyota 4Runner.
The incident is under investigation, including the shooting by the homeowner.
“If you can’t articulate a threat or fear you are going to be injured you can’t just shoot at a vehicle,” Harding said. “That’s one of the things we are looking into.”
The shooting follows another shooting Feb. 6 in Port Orchard over a stolen car and comes as frustration mounts over a dramatic increase in reports of vehicle thefts in Kitsap County and across the state.
In the Port Orchard shooting, a citizen had been chasing a stolen car and fired a gun at the vehicle while driving. The person called 911 but refused to cease the pursuit. Port Orchard Police Matt Brown said he sympathized with the frustration over the increase in stolen cars, but called the chase and shooting “a wanton disregard for the law and could have resulted in tragedy or death.”
Last week the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs issued a statement, and Washington State Patrol data, they said showed the statewide increase of car thefts followed new restrictions in July on law enforcement’s ability to chase stolen cars and suspects of other “non violent” crimes.
“I have never seen criminals as emboldened as they are now,” former Bremerton police Chief and association Executive Director Steve Strachan said in the statement, adding that a bipartisan measure to modify the restrictions died at adjournment of the legislative session March 10. “Our mayors, law enforcement, and the community asked for help, and the legislature made the specific decision to continue to allow for brazen contempt for the law.”
Officers in Kitsap County have attempted to “box in” parked and occupied stolen cars to keep the drivers from fleeing, but in at least four incidents since January the suspects started ramming the patrol cars to get away, leading to high-speed pursuits, minor injuries among officers, damage to police cars as well as the stolen vehicle.
The association reported that a comparison of year-to-date figures from the end of March shows vehicle thefts increased 88 percent from 2021 to 2022. Comparing March 2021 to March 2022 showed a 99 percent increase.
The association found that 26,520 vehicles were stolen in 2020, 31,032 were stolen in 2021, and if the trend holds it estimates this year will end with more than 50,000 reports of stolen vehicles.
“Each of these alarming numbers represent a victim,” Strachan said in the statement. “And victims of auto theft too often are those who can least afford it – with older cars with fewer anti-theft systems, with less insurance coverage and with greater impacts on their lives.”
Harding said there isn’t one single trend to the car thefts in Poulsbo. However, he said investigators noticed that when they locate a stolen car there is often a report of another stolen car in the vicinity, leading investigators to believe that thieves are ditching one stolen car and then stealing another.
“That is a pattern we are seeing,” Harding said.
He also said that when the stolen cars are recovered by officers they are in various condition, with some being undamaged and others having sustained significant damage.
“It’s all over the board in that way,” Harding said.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: Washington man fires shots during car theft amid stolen vehicles spike