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Chief’s Message: February report focuses on vehicle thefts

Martinez Chief of Police Manjit Sappal. (COURTESY / On File)
Martinez Chief of Police Manjit Sappal. (COURTESY / On File)

By MANJIT SAPPAL
Martinez Chief of Police

I wanted to focus this newsletter on the increase in auto thefts we have seen over the last few months. One of the most commonly stolen vehicles has been the Ford F series trucks, both the F-250 and the F-350. It appears that thieves are able to pry open the door locks to gain entry and punch the ignition fairly easily. In some of the newer models, they are able to bypass the computer through the ignition switch to get the car started.

We need help in impacting the thefts with prevention measures. Here are some tips on preventing auto thefts:

Easy tips:

• Lock your door.

• Don’t leave car keys in your car.

• Close all of your windows and park in a well-lit area.

• Don’t leave valuables in plain view – this attracts thieves who may very well decide to take the whole car to transport the valuables to another location.

• Don’t leave your car running unattended. (Even if just momentarily.)

Next Level tips:

• Get an alarm – isn’t it annoying when a car alarm is going off? Well, thieves feel the same way. They do not want the attention.

• Steering wheel or brake pedal locks – these devices are easy to use and make it more difficult for people to steal your car.

Going beyond the basics tips:

Vehicle immobilizers can be an excellent way of protecting your vehicle:

• Using a fuse cutoff switch.

• Kill switches that cut off fuel or electrical, so the car cannot be started.

• Smart Keys with computer chips that must be present to start the car.

• Starter, ignition, and fuel disablers.

• Adding a tracking system that emits a signal to the police monitoring service when the vehicle is stolen.

Irrespective of what you drive, think about waking up one morning to find your car stolen! Now, you have no car, you have no idea when you will get it back, if ever, and you have to take time to deal with making a police report as well as working with your insurance company.

Taking a few simple steps can make the difference between being a victim or not. Some of the prevention items listed are easy to do like getting a steering wheel lock or an alarm. Others, such as the fuse cut-offs or starter and ignition disablers are more difficult – they require someone with mechanical know how, but in the end, it may be worth looking into so you don’t find yourself stranded without a car.

Just to give you an idea of what happens when you call the police after your car is stolen, here is a brief outline:

An officer will respond to document the theft. Once we obtain your license plate or VIN we put the information into the Statewide Stolen Vehicle System (SVS). In the event an officer stops a car or checks the license plate, the officer will be alerted that the car is stolen. The officers will stop the car and it is fairly common for suspects to flee resulting in a pursuit. We always balance the need to pursue against the danger it creates to the public and if a suspect is driving with disregard for public safety, we may be forced to terminate the pursuit. If they stop, then we investigate and arrest for the possession of stolen property or auto theft, depending on the circumstances.

When a car is recovered from being stolen, you will be notified. The chances of seeing a car thief in action is rare. In fact, you can check the World Wide Web for information and videos of people that steal cars and based on their level of expertise, unless you know exactly what to watch for, you cannot tell they are stealing a car. It is common for people to use shaved keys (keys that have been filed down to work in the ignition of certain vehicles) and it is not readily apparent they are getting into a car that does not belong to them.

The important thing to remember is that most suspects are looking for the least risk with the greatest reward, so they will not break into a car that may take too much time and effort. Any measures that you can take to prevent the theft can go a long way to protecting your property. It is also extremely important to make sure that you call about any suspicious people or cars in your neighborhood. Many auto thieves are coming into Martinez from other cities and they will drive around neighborhoods looking for cars to steal. If you see a car driving through the neighborhood that you do not recognize or it is driving slowly and appears to be eyeing cars or homes, call our Dispatch Center at (925) 372-3414.

Get a description of the car, a license plate if possible, any description of the occupants, the direction they are traveling, and what actions they were involved in that appear suspicious or criminal.

Please pass this information along to your neighbors, friends, and community – let’s work together to keep our community safe! Don’t forget to call our Dispatch Center (925-372-3440) in the event you see any suspicious behavior in your neighborhood.

As for a snapshot of monthly activity this month, here are a few highlights:

• Officer Carney took a stolen vehicle report that occurred in the 1700 block of Center Avenue. The vehicle was a 1968 Gray GMC Sierra.

• Officer Montano responded to the 500 block of Center Avenue for a petty theft that just occurred. The suspect was last seen near the John Muir Inn. Officer Montano located the suspect and arrested him for the theft. He was cited and released at the scene.

• Officer Lekse responded to Walgreens for a theft that had just occurred. The suspect fled in a green 4-door sedan south on Alhambra Avenue. Officer Montano saw the car just south of Highway 4 and attempted to catch up with the car. She lost sight of the car at Taylor Boulevard and Alhambra Avenue. The theft was of electronics.

• Officer Tozier located a 1992 Toyota Corolla at the transit station (Blum and Pacheco) that was reported stolen to Bart PD (Pittsburg Station). The owner was contacted and they responded to take possession on the vehicle. No evidence was located.

• Officer Lekse contacted a subject in the Home Depot parking lot and found them in possession of approximately 5 grams of heroin. The subject was cited and released from the scene.

• Corporal Mayberry observed a wanted female subject walking in the 700 block of Main Street. The subject had two (2) outstanding warrants and was booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

• A resident called and reported he saw a female in his secured vehicle parked in the 700 block of Shell Avenue. The female fled on foot and he followed her to Shell Avenue at Martinez Avenue. Officers arrived on scene and ultimately arrested the female subject. She was arrested for a warrant and attempted vehicle theft. She was booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

• Pittsburg PD requested assistance to locate a suicidal subject possibly in our city. The subject was involved in some type of domestic disturbance at his residence. During the dispute, he placed a handgun to his head and threatened to kill himself. He fled the residence in his vehicle and several hours later, Pittsburg PD advised his cellphone “pinged” in the 900 block of Howe Road.

Ofc. Montano located the vehicle driving in the 700 block of Arnold Drive. While waiting for backup, the subject drove into the Walmart shopping center parking lot. Officers conducted a high risk stop, but the subject refused to exit his vehicle.

The stop progressed into standoff with an armed barricaded subject. Dispatch was instructed to call Walmart and Home Depot and have the stores locked down. Dispatch was also instructed to contact the Patrol Commander for a possible tactical call out and response. Ofc. Montano negotiated with the subject for approximately five minutes and he agreed to exit the vehicle. He was detained without incident and placed on a 72-hour evaluation hold. The gun was not located on the person or in the vehicle. Outstanding work by all personnel!

• Officer Lekse responded to the Franklin Canyon Park and Ride for an auto burglary. The vehicle had been burglarized and point of entry was a window smash resulting in the loss of a purse.

• Ofc. Sanders responded to the John Muir Inn for a possible carjacking. Ofc. Sanders learned that the victim was driving the suspect’s car and the suspect became upset with the victim. The suspect pointed a gun at the victim’s head and told him to get out of the car. The suspect got in the driver’s seat and fled the area.

• Ofc. Voyvodich contacted a subject passed out at the bus stop at the corner of Alhambra Avenue and F Street. Ofc. Voyvodich determined the subject was too intoxicated to care for his own safety and was not suitable to be booked into the Martinez Detention Facility. The subject was transported to the Contra Costa Regional Medical Center for extreme intoxication.

• Ofc. Ramos contacted an intoxicated female in the 600 block of Castro Street. Ofc. Ramos determined the subject was too intoxicated to be booked into the Martinez Detention Facility. She was transported to the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center (CCRMC) by ambulance.

• Ofc. Leong responded to Amtrak for a subject causing a disturbance. He contacted the subject who had a felony warrant for his arrest. He was arrested and booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

• Sgt. Salamid contacted a subject who was yelling and panhandling at the Amtrak Station. The subject was recently released from county hospital.

Amtrak personnel purchased the subject a train ticket to Fairfield. Sgt. Salamid left the area and the subject remained at Amtrak. Approximately five minutes later, officers were again dispatched to the Amtrak because the subject was involved in a physical fight with another Amtrak patron.

The subject was contacted again and ultimately arrested for Battery. He was booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

• Ofc. Carney was dispatched to a residence in the 100 block of Alhambra Hills Drive for a report of mail theft that was witnessed by a local resident. There is video surveillance of the theft, but no suspect identification could be made. The involved vehicle was a small silver sport utility.

• Ofc. Sanders contacted a subject known to him in the area of 1111 Ferry Street. A search of the subject revealed methamphetamine and burglary tools. The subject was transported to MPD where he was booked and released.

• Ofc. Poertner was dispatched to the parking lot of Home Depot for a report of a white male adult yelling and running toward cars in the lot. Ofc. Poertner contacted a known subject, who also matched the description provided by the reporting party. Ofc. Poertner determined the subject was intoxicated and unable to care for his own safety. The subject was arrested and booked into the Martinez Detention Facility without incident.

• Officers were dispatched to Tower Mart, 3012 Howe Road, for a suspicious vehicle. A passenger inside the vehicle was found to have two felony warrants. There was a no bail warrant for burglary out of San Francisco County and a no bail warrant for violating probation out of San Mateo County. She was arrested and booked into MDF.

• Sergeant Gaul observed a subject driving near the area of Pacheco Boulevard and Blum Road. He had prior knowledge the subject was wanted for a felony, $60,000 warrant for drug possession. When Sergeant Gaul began to follow him, he sped away at a high rate of speed. Sergeant Gaul pursued the vehicle into Concord and the pursuit concluded when the subject was involved in a solo traffic collision. Also in the vehicle was a female who Sergeant Gaul knew had a $60,000 warrant for drugs, as well. She was arrested without incident. Both were booked into MDF.

• Officer Voyvodich received a LoJack hit to his patrol car. LoJack is a tracking system that can be purchased by a vehicle owner that notifies the police where the stolen car is. Officer Voyvodich used the system to track a 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe to the 2100 block of Northwood Drive in Concord.

The vehicle was reported stolen to Antioch PD that day. He arrested the subject without incident and booked him into MDF for possession of stolen property.

• Dispatch advised patrol that Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office (CCCSO) was in pursuit of a vehicle near Kaiser. Deputies were pursuing the driver and they had knowledge he was on probation and was in possession of a firearm. Officers responded and the vehicle was found abandoned in the 1500 block of Ashwood Drive. Officer Lincoln and K9 Jago tracked to the 1600 block of Ashwood Drive and located the subject. No firearm was found.

• Ofc. Voyvodich reported moderate flooding at the Martinez Marina. King Tide was expected at 11:06 a.m. Corp yard was contacted and barricades and signs were placed.

• Officers and Corp. Yard responding to various locations regarding flooding, mud, and trees that had fallen during a series of major storms in the area.

• Sgt. Salamid was on foot in the 700 block of Main Street when he saw a female defecating in a parking area. Sgt. Salamid contacted and cited her for misdemeanor 372 PC (Public Nuisance) after she cleaned up the feces.

• Officers were dispatched to Highland Avenue for a report of a male subject with a knife. Ofc. Ramos and Sgt. Salamid arrived and contacted the male who was displaying pronounced signs of methamphetamine use. Ofc. Ramos subsequently arrested him for 11550(a) H&S (Under the influence of Controlled Substance) and booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

• Ofc. Winslett was dispatched to a major injury accident at the intersection of Midhill at Heavenly Drive. The accident was between a motorcycle and a pickup truck. The motorcyclist injured his left arm and sustained possible back injuries. He was transported to a local hospital.

• A resident reported an unoccupied black Isuzu Rodeo parked with a smashed window. Ofc. Brinser responded and his investigation found the vehicle was reported stolen out of Pleasant Hill on Jan. 11, 2017. There is no evidence or suspect leads at this time.

• Amtrak reported a disturbance in the station. Officers responded and contacted the subject creating the disturbance. The subject was wanted by parole and was booked into the Martinez Detention Facility for parole warrant.

• Ofc. Sanders responded to Whiskey Lane for a subject causing a disturbance. He contacted the subject and determined the subject was too intoxicated to care for himself. The subject was arrested and booked into the Martinez Detention Facility.

Ofc. Leong responded to the 1400 block of Willow Street for a verbal altercation between mother and son. As Ofc. Leong arrived on scene he saw the son break the windshield of his mother’s car with a rock. The son was arrested and booked into MDF for 594 PC (Vandalism).

• MPD officers were advised of a 2003 Ford F-350 that was just stolen from the 600 block of Bertola Street. Officer Sanders located the truck getting onto westbound Highway 4 from Alhambra Avenue. Officer Poertner was able to catch up with Officer Sanders just as they encountered a heavy down pour.

Officer Poertner’s unit started to hydroplane and he lost control of the vehicle and hit the “K” rail just west of Franklin Canyon and the unit left the highway. Officer Poertner and Logan were uninjured and the car suffered minor damage (CHP took a report on the collision). Officer Sanders followed the truck onto westbound 80 and the driver drove down the on-ramp (the wrong way) at San Pablo Road and Officer Sanders lost site of the truck. MPD units were never in pursuit and Officer Sanders was following the truck at freeway speeds.

• Officer Sanders responded to a residence in the 200 block of Tuolume Avenue for an altercation between a male and female. Upon his arrival, the male had left the residence and the female stated her ex-boyfriend slapped her several times. MPD units conducted an area check for a male, but were unable to locate him.

• Officers responded to the 1100 block of Pine Street regarding a couple that was walking when the female’s brother approached them from behind and attacked his sister’s boyfriend with a knife. He then fled the area. The male was cut two or three times on his left arm and left shoulder. He was transported to the hospital where he was treated for his injuries and released. An area check was conducted for the suspect, but officers were met with negative results. Investigation continuing.

• Ofc. Russell was dispatched to 855 Howe Road (M&S Landscaping) for the report of a commercial burglary that occurred sometime during the night, resulting in several thousand dollars in landscaping equipment being stolen. Additionally, two (2) Ford F-250 pickup trucks were stolen. The trucks had M&S decals printed on them. There is no suspect information at this time. Both vehicles were entered into the Stolen Vehicle System.

• Ofc. Miller was dispatched to a business in the 900 block of Howe Road for the report of a commercial burglary. Ofc. Miller determined two (2) commercial vehicles had been tampered with but no property was taken. There is no suspect information at this time.

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