Springfield police advise drivers to park in well lit areas, and to avoid leaving valuables in a car. Never leave items in such a way that they can be easily spotted through a car's windows and windshields. (Photo by Rance Burger)

Although property crime is broadly trending down in Springfield, vehicle theft and auto part theft increased in 2021, spurring police officers’ effort to educate the public on how to reduce “crimes of opportunity.”

The department’s crime of focus for early 2022 is vehicle theft, which was reported to Springfield police 1,477 times in 2021, a 2.4-percent increase from the 1,442 instances of vehicle theft in 2020. That’s an average of 4.04 vehicles stolen in Springfield on any given day, or a vehicle theft occurring approximately once every six hours.

“Five seconds is all it takes,” Officer Nathan Fetters said in a video shared to the police department’s website and Facebook page.

A data heat map shows property crime in Springfield occurring in October, November and December of 2021. The interchange of Kansas Expressway and Interstate 44 was a hot spot for property crime. (Map from the Springfield Police Department)

In one of the videos, Fetters showed a heat map of recent vehicle thefts that were reported in Springfield.

“The majority of auto thefts are occurring in the north and central parts of the city, but no matter where you live, don’t leave your vehicle idling,” Fetters said. “Take your keys with you and always lock your doors.”

Police usually find four out of every five stolen vehicles, but one of each five is gone forever, according to the police department.

“While about 80 percent of stolen vehicles are recovered and returned to their owners, they’re rarely recovered in good condition,” a press release from the Springfield Police Department reads.

In March, the Springfield Police Department started sharing regular updates on trending crimes on its website and social media channels. These public service announcement-style videos coincided with the full release of the Springfield Police Department’s 2021 crime report, a compilation of data for crimes, investigations and initiatives for the past year.

Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams brought up the effort to reach the public at a Springfield City Council meeting on April 4.

“We’ve had very good public response from our weekly informational PSAs highlighting not just the crime of the quarter that we’re focusing on, but also any trending crime that might be coming along,” Williams said.

Theft of items from vehicles down, but still top property crime

There were 2,617 cases of items being stolen from cars or trucks reported to Springfield police in 2021, down 22 percent from 3,355 reports of theft from vehicles in 2020. Theft from a motor vehicle remains the No. 1 property crime in Springfield, occurring an average of 7.17 times per day, or an average of once every 3 hours and 18 minutes.

Crimes that tapered downward from 2020 to 2021 in Springfield included forgery, identity theft, robbery, shoplifting, theft from buildings and theft from motor vehicles.

Tips to protect your car and property

There are 4.89 thefts of automobile parts and accessories every day in Springfield, according to the Springfield Police Department 2021 Annual Crime Report.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, here are some steps to make your car less enticing to thieves:

  • Park in well lit areas if at all possible
  • Take your vehicle’s key when you get out of the car. Lock all doors and windows.
  • Never leave valuables in a vehicle.
  • Avoid leaving items in a vehicle in places where they can be easily seen when looking through windows or windshields.
  • Consider adding audible and visual alarms and theft prevention devices to your vehicle.

What to do if you are a victim of theft

  • Call and report the theft to police.
  • Know the make, model and color of your vehicle.
  • Know your license plate number.
  • Know the vehicle identification number (VIN).
  • Report the theft to your insurance company within 24 hours.
  • If you find the vehicle before the police do, immediately notify the police and your insurance company.

About the data

The Springfield Police Department’s 2021 crime report tracks and analyzes more than 50 crime types in three categories: crimes against persons, crimes against property and crimes against society. Crimes against property include financial crimes where money is stolen, along with crimes where items are stolen and when property is damaged in some way.

In 2021, there was a 3.6 percent increase from 2020 (211 more reports) for crimes against persons, an 11.3 percent decrease (a net drop of 1,928 reports) for crimes against property, and a 2.2 percent decrease (60 fewer reports) for crimes against society. 

The Springfield Police Department reports that the total number of crimes committed in Springfield in 2021 was down 6.9 percent compared to 2020, representing 1,777 fewer crime reports overall.

How to take action

Watch the latest “Trending Crime Update” on the Springfield Police Department website.

Apply for the Springfield Citizens Police Academy. Citizens interested in a behind-the-scenes look at the Springfield Police Department’s practices and policies can apply now for the spring 2022 Citizens Police Academy that begins in August. The deadline to apply is April 30.

Williams noted that 2021 marked the second year for the Springfield Police Department to take part in the FBI National Incident-Based Reporting System, so comparing 2020 crime data with 2021 crime data gave the first apples-to-apples data comparison since the Springfield police switched the way they count cases and collect data.

Springfield was one of 9,880 participants in the Uniform Crime Reporting program from across the nation in 2020.

“We are hoping that’s going to have a very positive effect as the community comes together with the police department, not just to solve crimes but to prevent crimes,” Williams said.

Catalytic converter theft

If stealing items from vehicles isn’t enough, opportunistic thieves are still stealing parts from parked vehicles.

There were 1,787 thefts of motor vehicle parts and accessories reported to Springfield police in 2021, up 36 percent from the 1,306 reports of auto part theft in 2020.

The theft of catalytic converters has had a significant impact on the Springfield community over the last two years and in 2021, after an extensive investigation, the case ended with federal indictments for seven individuals.

On Jan. 27, 2022, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri announced the federal grand jury indictment of seven persons for their alleged roles in transporting thousands of stolen catalytic converters across state lines in order to make millions of dollars.

Evan Marshall, 24, and Camren Davis, 24, both of Rogersville, and Cody Ryder, 30, Leslie Ice, 37, his wife, Danielle Ice, 33, Eric Kaltenbach, 37, and Enx Khoshaba, 29, all of Springfield, were charged in a four-count superseding indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Springfield.

Marshall allegedly had an arrangement with a company in Arkansas. In addition to selling the buyer catalytic converters from junk vehicles he had purchased from salvage yards, Marshall allegedly began to buy stolen catalytic converters from co-conspirators and sell them to the buyer in Arkansas.

Catalytic converters, exhaust emission control devices mandated for all cars and trucks, contain metals like platinum, palladium, and rhodium that can be recycled. Recyclers sometimes pay big money for certain metals, making the risk worth the payoff for thieves who steal parts off of parked vehicles.

According to the indictment, Marshall bought junk vehicles and scrapped them out for several years prior to 2019, when he started a new company to provide the appearance of a legitimate business for his purchase, transportation, and sale of stolen catalytic converters.

The indictment alleges Marshall received more than $6.8 million from the company in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and hauled somewhere between 800 and 1,200 catalytic converters from Springfield to Mountain Home every two or three weeks from December 2019 to October 2021.

In July 2021, Marshall allegedly bought stolen converters from an undercover law enforcement agent and sold them. The indictment alleges Davis and Ryder worked for Marshall and bought stolen catalytic converters on his behalf.

The indictment alleges Leslie Ice, Danielle Ice, Kaltenbach, Khoshaba, and others stole catalytic converters from vehicles in the Springfield area and sold them to Marshall, Davis and Ryder.

The stolen catalytic converters were linked to companies that purchase automotive cores in Mountain Home, Arkansas, Cherry Valley, Arkansas, and Farmington, Missouri.

While the arrests and indictments were viewed as a major success for the Springfield Police Department, officers remind the public to be vigilant about the theft of core auto parts while their vehicles are parked and unattended.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger