In my first six months living in Portland, Oregon in 2000, someone smashed my passenger window. They stole a jacket I left on the front passenger seat, and some irreplaceable audio recordings I was transporting between work and home. I was pissed. I quickly learned a hard Portland truth: you can never, ever, leave anything visible on your car seats around here. It doesn’t matter if it’s a paper bag full of old burger wrappers or an empty box; if thieves see potential, they’ll break in to get it. The problem has persisted. Shards of broken glass still sparkle on our sidewalks, and people drive with plastic bags taped to their cars to keep out the rain until they can get their windows replaced.
Things have gotten worse. Now thieves just steal your car. Despite its small size, Portland has the third highest car theft rate in America, right after Baltimore and Detroit. By October 2017, more cars had been stolen here than in all of 2016. At Willamette Week, staff writer Katie Shepherd figures out why. It turns out, it’s because of a culture of crime and intravenous drug use, and because lax laws make car theft difficult to prosecute. Cops arrest the same people over and over. That’s how easy stealing cars here is. Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Ryan Lufkin is working to change that by closing a loophole. Until then, hide your stuff. Don’t let your car idle to heat up on winter mornings. Use The Club. Not that it matters; parking here is a roll of the dice. So how did this start?
The case involved Jerrol Edwin Shipe, a 49-year-old former retirement home worker who was arrested in 2012 while sitting in a stolen truck in Washington County. He was convicted but appealed the verdict, claiming he didn’t know it was stolen and that he had gotten the truck from “a friend named Richey.”
Evidence at the scene suggested Shipe knew he was driving a stolen truck. He had bolt cutters, multiple sets of keys, and a locked case labeled—amazingly—”Crime Committing Kit.” The truck had other stolen property inside. The key Shipe had been using to start the engine did not belong to the truck.
Shipe’s appeal claimed that prosecutors could not prove he had “knowingly” taken possession of a stolen vehicle. Prosecutors argued that the evidence should have made it obvious to any reasonable person that the truck had been stolen.
The Oregon Court of Appeals judges ruled in Shipe’s favor. Chief Appellate Judge Erika Hadlock wrote in the July 23, 2014, decision that the state was asking the court “to accept too great an inferential leap” in determining that Shipe knew the truck was stolen when he took possession of it. (Hadlock declined comment to WW on her ruling.)
It set a precedent: Carrying tools associated with car break-ins or even operating a car with the wrong key was not enough evidence to prove that someone sitting in a stolen car knew that it was hot.
Health certificates, bovine bullet wounds, viral outbreaks, livestock animal abuse — these are just a few of the issues facing Nevada’s specially trained team for agricultural crime. They’re armed with guns and veterinarian supplies. They cover huge rural areas larger than some eastern states, and they call themselves “cow cops.” Tay Wiles shares their story at High Country News. Will someone make a Netflix series out of them, please?
All these shootings were a reminder of the vulnerability of northern Nevada’s ranches. They are some of the largest in the nation, requiring so much space for forage that there’s no way to strictly monitor where the cows go, what they do and whom they encounter. “Off the top of my head, it’s happened at least once to all of our friends,” Dave Stix Jr., president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, said of the shootings. “Shit, you might was well start at the top of the list of all of our members — guarantee they’ve all had one killed or maimed.”
With their proximity to Elko, Jon Griggs and Mitch Heguy’s ranches are particularly vulnerable to mischief. Heguy became increasingly paranoid about who was driving by his property — found himself writing down license plate numbers of vehicles he didn’t recognize. “We leave the access (to BLM land) through our private land open,” he said. “We don’t lock it up, but we could.” Most visitors coming and going are relatively harmless. Griggs once found a group of dirt bikers tearing up a remote area of his rangeland. When he asked if they knew where they were, the bikers said, “Oh, we thought we were just out in the hills.”
But the shootings were different, something menacing. By the summer of 2015, the reward was up to $28,700. Wright and his team had only been able to verify that about 25 of the dead animals had been shot; infection can make it difficult to determine the cause of death, and the spray of a shotgun can make an infected bullet wound hard to differentiate from something like pigeon fever. Wright had told the press his team identified “persons of interest” in the case, but they led nowhere. The case was cold.
The set-up was like something out of a movie—Four California Highway Patrol officers with little to no undercover experience decide to pose as Vegas players to take down motorcycle thieves in LA. Southern California’s street bike culture had made motorcycle theft a major problem in recent years, and so the officers would need to infiltrate the scene in order to pull off their sting. This is where things got tricky. Writing about the operation in Los Angeles Magazine, Greg Nichols details the creative way one of the officers gained credibility in the biker community:
With the team members in place, they set to work finding a second suspect. Scores of thieves were scooping up sport bikes around Los Angeles, but that didn’t make them easy to locate. Combing through Craigslist and eBay, the investigators scanned for ads containing suspicious language. Watson asked insurance companies to provide bike parts. Looking for leads, he and Clifford wrapped their inventory in cellophane, stepped into character, and went around to local motorcycle shops offering tidbits for sale or trade. Watson, always animated, did most of the talking. Clifford was younger, a good kid from a small town in Northern California. He was stiff at first, and cusswords tumbled out of his mouth with the overenunciated eagerness of a parent using slang. Incredulous shop owners sized up the short-haired white boys bearing gift-wrapped parts and said no thanks. The CHP had sprung for fake business cards, which the investigators passed out all over town, but nobody seemed eager to follow up with them.
Then Watson realized he had a teenager’s gift for social media. His humor and goofiness played well online. Watson joined motorcycle forums and set up a Facebook account to get close to club members. Men were slow to respond, but women seemed happy to accept his friend requests. The more female friends he acquired, the more the male bikers warmed to him. Soon he had a cyberposse of unwitting informants. Using those contacts, and cross-referencing frequent posters on Craigslist and eBay, the team discovered a likely suspect. When Clifford called about a Suzuki GSXR posted on Craigslist, the man introduced himself as Biscuit.
New sketched out the organization. “Jackboys” were responsible for breaking into cars. They would smash up spark plugs, keeping the pieces in their mouths, then pop the windows with the fragments, cracking the glass. “They wrap something around their arm and break it,” New explained. The jackboys hit gyms and daycare centers. “They like Starbucks,” New said. “Women like to hurry and rush in and leave their purses in the car with the door open.” The jackboys were careful to use ordinary vehicles that wouldn’t draw attention. “They never use the cars with the rims. No flashy cars.”
The aim was to scoop up as much of the sensitive personal information from a victim as possible. “We want your social security card,” New explained, “’cause you’ve got to have that number to get the information from the bank. We’re going to look for credit cards that have your bank emblem on it, ’cause we’re going to know what bank you go to so we don’t have to call all the banks. Then I call all the credit cards, the numbers on the back, and put in your account number and see what your credit is on the cards. How we test them to see if they’re still on or if they’ve been reported is by going to a gas station and just slide it through. If it says ‘See Attendant,’ we know it’s burnt. And then we have to keep the ID, the social security card, and one major credit card, ’cause you need the second form of ID to do the check.”
New’s role was as a “casher.” Taking a stolen ID from one victim and a stolen check from another victim, she would write a check to the name of the person on the ID — and then dress like that person and go cash the check.
The charade involved theater-major panache. Cashers dressed up in wigs, dyed their hair, and donned makeup to pull off the scam. “I even played a black lady and a Chinese lady,” New bragged to cops in her interrogation. “The wigs make it.”
The crew had a set payment plan for cashers: If they cashed checks between $1,800 and $2,500, they walked away with $400; checks between $1,000 and $1,800 got the casher $200. Another scam had the casher walking into stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Macy’s to open new cards and immediately buy merchandise; the bill would be sent to the victim weeks later.