A 39-year-old Encino woman was arrested Thursday in Newhall on suspicion of stealing a Budget rental moving truck — the kind of crime that local law enforcement officials say is on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the early-morning hours, deputies on patrol ran a license plate for a moving truck spotted near Newhall Avenue and Meadowridge Drive, according to Shirley Miller, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station.
The truck, deputies said, came back as a stolen rental from a Budget rental dealership in Sun Valley on July 26 and they conducted a traffic stop.
“She (the driver) told deputies when they asked where the rental place was at, she said it was over on Pine Street in Newhall,” Miller said. “Well, there is no Budget rental facility there. Basically, that’s the location where she stole from the victim who had parked it there.”
Deputies then detained the suspect and her passenger, a 36-year-old transient man, and in addition to the suspected stolen vehicle, deputies reportedly found methamphetamine and paraphernalia inside the vehicle.
Both the woman and the man were then transported and booked at the SCV Sheriff’s Station early Thursday morning. The woman was booked on charges of felony grand theft of a vehicle and both suspects were booked on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of meth and drug paraphernalia.
Theft on the rise
Miller said that crimes of theft on the caliber of grand theft auto are not necessarily on the rise, but crimes of petty theft within the Santa Clarita Valley certainly have risen since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The top crime right now in the Santa Clarita Valley is theft,” said Miller. “It’s been spiking lately.”
While most crimes, outside of domestic violence, have seen a substantial drop-off this year, crimes related to theft, burglary and robbery have not seen the same drop.
For instance, between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2019, there were 280 violent crimes reported to the SCV Sheriff’s Station. In that same time period this year, there were 235, showing a 16.07% drop in violent crime reported to the SCV Sheriff’s Station. However, property crimes, such as theft, during these same time periods show only a 3.13% overall drop.
Vehicle thefts in particular, Miller said, where suspects break into vehicles and steal anything they can find, regardless of where the car is parked, have been frequent.
“There’s a lot of people, like in this moving truck grand theft, that are not from the area, and it seems a large percentage of the suspects that are caught are from the San Fernando Valley, Bakersfield and the Antelope Valley.”
Miller said crimes of theft happen in specific areas or at certain times, such as the report over the weekend that a couple who had parked their car near Whitney Canyon and went hiking returned 45 minutes later to find their car windows had been smashed and a diaper bag had been stolen.
Miller also referenced another incident earlier this week where a suspect reportedly rummaged through the outside compartments of an RV that was not his in front of Ice Station Valencia.
“They didn’t take anything, but it still is going to be a costly repair,” said Miller. “I believe he (the RV owner) said it was $250 a lock for him to repair.”
Overall, Miller said, these crimes are related to a lot of factors, such as drug addiction or people not taking the proper steps to secure their belongings when they’re left unattended. Miller added, though, that another factor is the state requirements in releasing largely nonviolent offenders within hours of their arrest in order to lessen the burden and fear of COVID-19 exposure in jails.
“We see the same names being arrested throughout the week,” said Miller. “It’s like the incident we posted over the weekend where the person was arrested for stealing a car, and he had prior convictions for stealing a car. He’s booked Saturday night around 5 p.m., he’s released in the early-morning hours. And then, within 30 minutes, he’s out committing another crime.”
The SCV is a target for criminals from outside the community because it’s an affluent suburban area that has a feeling of being universally safe, Miller said. But in order for it to be safe, she said, residents need to take the proper precautions to ensure they do not become a target.
Miller suggested that people follow the station’s “9 p.m. Routine” program, which involves residents heading out to their vehicles every night at 9 p.m. and ensuring they are locked and empty of any valuable personal belongings, such as sunglasses, phones and loose change.
“It’s unfortunate, and it’s a hassle,” said Miller of the 9 p.m. Routine. “But you feel so bad for these people because they will have to replace their car window and their personal items that are lost.”
Miller said by minimizing your risk, you assist law enforcement. “We really need the residents’ help in doing that,” she said.