DES MOINES, Wash. --24-year-old Jennifer Midura of Kent says it took her six months waitressing at a pancake house to afford a car. She bought it on January 3rd and it was a beauty, a mint condition 1994 Acura Integra.
"I worked for that,” Midura said, “I didn't just have it handed to me. I don't have a mom and dad to depend on."
Midura pays $50 each quarter to park at Highline Community College in Des Moines, where she's a student, but there’s a severe shortage of spaces, so last Thursday she parked across the street at Lowe’s. When she came back four hours later her car was gone.
"First thing I did was call the tow company because I thought, oh, they towed me."
But her car wasn't towed. It had been stolen.
And when it was found three days later in Tacoma, Midura was devastated. The body was damaged, the engine gone. The interior was trashed, including the steering column. Her $4000 car was now worth barely enough to cover the towing fees.
"You try so hard to get ahead and to have nice things and then to have it stolen," she said as she fought back tears.
Jennifer is the latest victim of a car theft spree at Highline Community College that began over a year ago. Twenty three cars were stolen from the campus in 2010. Six more have been stolen since January of this year—more than one per week. Midura’s car isn’t even included in those statistics because she was parked across the street, just off campus.
Highline says it’s trying to combat the thefts. Campus security patrols the lots. And they’ve installed one surveillance camera, which covers part of a main parking lot. There are no cameras at the other two lots.
"We are just strapped with what we can do,” said Lisa Skari, V.P. of Institutional Advancement for the Highline Community College. “The same with hiring more security staff, we don't have the money to do it,” she said. Skari says the college has had its budget cut by the state legislature in each of the past three years.
The situation's no better with local police. "Highline's stolen car cases wind up at the Des Moines Police Department where they're given very little attention. The department doesn’t have even one detective assigned to handle property crimes. And its anti-crime task force of five officers was cut last March.
"Would we like to be able to put a team out here on campus, would we like to be able to install cameras, would we like to put a bait car out here? We would,” said Sgt. Bob Collins, who is Acting Commander for the Des Moines Police Department. “Do we have the resources? We don't," he said.
Police are urging students to install car alarms and locks on their steering wheels. But that won't help Jennifer Midura. She's back to taking the bus.
"You save and save and save and try really hard, for nothing!" she said.