Wichita Police offers solution as thieves target more license plates

WICHITA, Kas. (KWCH) License plate thefts have been on the rise in Wichita, and police are passing out a solution.

In 2018 between January 1 and October 1, Wichita Police told Eyewitness News they had 945 reports of license plates stolen.

For the same time frame in 2019, the police department statistics show 1285 plates have been stolen.

"We were a bit surprised when we first saw that, but once we were able to analyze everything, we were able to drill down into a few select areas to focus our resources," said Wichita Police Crime Analyst Geoffrey Vail.

The hot spots for these crimes have been at apartment complexes in the Patrol North and Patrol West divisions of Wichita, even though it's an issue throughout the city.

This is a different crime than your typical auto theft.

"When you have your traditional larcenies from autos, it’s people breaking into the cars, and a lot of times you can fix that by simply locking up your car and someone won’t have easy access," said Shelby Blankinship, a crime analyst with Wichita Police. "With the license plates, since they’re on the outside of the vehicle, it was a little more interesting on how we can go about solving and trying to minimize that crime."

By stealing the plates, police said thieves are using them to help evade detection while driving a stolen car.

"A lot of times when car thieves steal a car, they’ll know eventually we’ll run that tag and find out that it’s a stolen vehicle. But if they go to a new car, grab a similar car’s license plate. Then they can go a little bit long having that stolen vehicle without us stopping them," Wichita Police Department Patrol North Community Police Officer Brent Johnson said.

Wichita Police Department Patrol West Community Police Officer Roddy Winder continued, "Sometimes they swap the license plates so it’s hard for an owner to realize or they don’t notice right away, but sometimes people have come out, and their license plates are just gone, then that’s a hassle for that person. So we’re trying to help them out by elevating that problem for them."

The department is trying to make that harder for criminals.

Officers are going to apartment complexes seeing some of the highest rates of these incidents and providing security screws with a unique bit that makes it harder to unscrew.

Patrol West budgeted for the screws and are providing the kits along with Patrol North.

The department also said people leaving their car unlocked is a chronic issue and leads to the threat of car theft.