PPB creates ‘data-driven’ plan to recover stolen cars with OHSU researcher

Portland ranks fifth in the country for stolen cars per capita, according to Portland Police.
Published: Jun. 15, 2023 at 6:33 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland ranks fifth in the country for stolen cars per capita, according to Portland Police.

For more than a year and a half now, officers at their east precinct have been working overtime to do ‘stolen vehicle operations’, in most cases, using their air support unit to keep track of these drivers who are avoiding police.

These operations are typically done in one shift and sometimes with help from local agencies like Gresham Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. PPB said these operations focus on stolen cares that are actively being driven around Portland that they say tend to be used for other crimes.

Officer Michael Terrett, who helped start these SOVs, said one example is the shooting that injured two students outside of Jefferson High School last October.

“The vehicle here that, basically delivered the people, was a stolen vehicle,” Terrett said. “When we think about stolen vehicles, we don’t just think in terms of not only the property crime, the inconvenience, but we also think of the other things we see when we experience with those vehicles and what they’re used in.”

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When the east precinct first began these operations, they found they were stopping people who weren’t driving stolen vehicles, which meant fewer instances of arrests and recovered cars.

Lieutenant Norman Staples, who manages these operations, said these stops are still a learning opportunity.

“Based on our stats and when we run the probability numbers, we can say when we have these factors, they’re not stolen cars anymore. So, that helps us learn ‘maybe we shouldn’t stop cars like this’,” Staples said. “It’s a compare and contrast, so you have to have the positives and you have to have the negatives. So, is it a waste of time? No. Is it taking away time from actually getting a stolen car? Yes.”

They looked at their success ratios and thought they should take a scientific approach to this and began looking at what they call enrichment factors. Enrichment factors could be anything from fake trip permits to DIY tints and printed out license plates, which help them better identify stolen cars.

Since they’ve used these factors, Terrett has partnered with OHSU Knight Cancer Institute’s Dr. Jeffrey Tyner for peer review to make sure they’re taking the best, data-driven approach to these SVOs. During their first five operations without this approach, for every 31 stops, they only came across one stolen car. Now it’s one in six.

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“Less stops, we believe, is better for the community, we believe it’s better for our officers. It’s safer, safer for us, safer for the community, less impact on the community. If we can do that with better outcomes, when we can actually get an active stolen vehicle out of the community, we believe that to be a good thing,” Terrett said.