A local group devoted to tracking down stolen cars saw its Facebook page – the home base and mission control for more than 13,000 members – was shut down this week by its founder.
“PDX Stolen Cars” was formed by Portland car-lover Titan Crawford about a year and a half ago, as car thefts in the Pacific Northwest – and across the nation – surged, overwhelming police departments.
The page offered resources and tips, such as identifying popular spots for abandoned stolen cars and showing members how to search for VIN numbers.
Crawford, 38, has not responded to requests for comment from The Oregonian/OregonLive. He told Willamette Week there was “too much liability” in running the group.
But Crawford’s apparent liability worries haven’t scared off the group’s five other administrators. They have started a new Facebook page – “PDX Stolen Car Recovery” – with the same mission.
They’ve been busy this week notifying members and encouraging them to move over to the new page, said Nicole Eddings Heath, one of the administrators, who The Oregonian/OregonLive followed last summer as she looked for stolen cars in her spare time.
“I still feel like it’s worth it,” Heath said. “Maybe even more, because the problem and the need are increasing. It’s not going to go away. People appreciate what we do.”
Portland set a record for car thefts in 2022, with about 11,000 vehicles reported stolen in the city – almost doubling the number of such thefts from just two years ago, according to Portland Police Bureau data.
The Portland metro area in 2021 ranked fifth in the U.S. for car thefts per 100,000 people, above San Francisco and Seattle.
Some Portland police officers have directed frustrated stolen-car victims to “PDX Stolen Cars,” but the police bureau warns people to be careful, pointing out that many guns have been found in recovered stolen cars, and that thieves often use heisted vehicles to commit other crimes.
“I really think that public safety is a partnership between the police and the community,” Portland police spokesperson Kevin Allen said. “But we do want to be careful about how much we encourage people. We don’t want to get to the point where people are putting themselves at risk.”
Heath said that while thieves are getting bolder and more aggressive, hunting for stolen cars doesn’t have to be dangerous.
The group follows strict guidance from law enforcement – and kicks out any members who don’t follow the rules. Those rules include: never approach an occupied car if it’s suspected to be stolen, never recover a car solo and always file a police report. When a car is found, members are told to call 311 non-emergency dispatch, who will send out an officer to inspect the situation and officially close the police report.
Heath and other stolen-car hunters from the group often spend their work commute and free time on the lookout for cars with markers of being stolen, like missing license plates or catalytic converters, and broken windows or door handles.
They work from lists compiled on the Facebook page, with victims posting photos of their stolen cars along with identifying and other potentially useful information, such as when and where it was last seen.
“If I’m sitting scrolling on my phone every day, why not help match up a stolen car with one our members have spotted?” Heath said. “I don’t feel like it’s work.”
Danika Persons, another moderator on the new page who lives in Gresham and works in North Portland, leaves home an hour early every morning and tries to drive different routes for the hunt. It has become an addictive hobby.
After a while, she said, “you look at every single car differently when you’re driving or walking around anywhere.”
Persons said the group’s administrators don’t know why Crawford chose to shut down the original Facebook stolen-cars page, but they “had his blessing” to start a new one.
“We felt like we can’t stop doing this,” Persons added. “We love to help people, that’s all we’re doing. We just want people to know we’re still here.”