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'It's like the Wild West': Thefts, vandalism rising at Washington auto dealerships, owners say

Auto dealerships say rampant property crimes are not only costly, but creating safety concerns.

RENTON, Wash. — Auto dealership owners are seeing an increase in thefts and break-ins around western Washington.

At a Harley-Davidson dealership in Fife, the door was smashed in overnight. It's the fifth break-in at the business this year, according to owner Ed Wallace.

However, Wallace says this time the outcome was different.

"The police caught him. He had a couple of laptops from the dealership, some tools, then he began admitting to other crimes he committed here," said Wallace.

Not far away, Hinshaw’s Automotive Group also reported a break-in Tuesday night.

"It is probably thousands of dollars worth of damage. And I mean, at best, they probably siphoned off $20 worth of gas," said Arianna Bigelow.

At the end of January, a vehicle was used to bust in the doors at another one of their locations. The thieves stole car keys and later returned to take three separate vehicles within ten days.

"We're having people just rob automobiles. It's like the Wild West," said Brian Dansel, Executive Director of the Washington State Independent Auto Dealers Association. He said the businesses he represents don’t know what to do.

"We just had one the other night, 17 catalytic converters cut off of one dealership's lot in one go," said Dansel.

Washington State Auto Dealers Association provided the results of a February survey where franchised dealerships in the state reported an increase in crime and vandalism since January 2020. The average dealership now spends more than $7,500 per month on increased security measures, according to the survey.

The Washington State Auto Dealers Association said the security measures businesses are currently taking are too expensive to be sustainable.

"We have people literally sleeping at their lots at night. We have folks that sleep at their place of business because it's gotten so bad," said Dansel.

"I think everybody's taking whatever measures they can to keep their own premises secured, but I think there's going to have to be greater action taken either by local law enforcement or by the state," said Bigelow.

    

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