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Private Citizen Facebook Groups Help Police Find Stolen Cars

After work daily, Titan Crawford drives through alleys and dumping grounds in Portland, Ore., looking for cars reported stolen. If he finds one, he grabs his phone to post it on the Facebook group he founded, PDX Stolen Cars. With over 20,000 members, it is often the second place Portlanders go after calling the police to report a stolen vehicle. “Some people have hobbies, like playing sports. Mine has turned into this,” said Crawford, 40, a used-car salesman. Crawford founded PDX Stolen Cars in 2021 after he found an damaged Kia while walking his dog. He was able to see the registration on the front seat and called the owners, who were out of town and didn’t know their car had been stolen. Auto thefts were surging in Portland, with around 1,000 reported each month—the highest since at least 2015. Crawford searched Facebook for a group where people could post information on stolen cars and others could help find them, but there wasn’t one. He created PDX Stolen Cars. (PDX is the Portland airport code.) Within a week, 300 people joined. In a month, after the group had a few successes, it was close to 1,000, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He estimates his group has helped to find 3,000 cars. PDX Stolen Cars receives nearly 30 posts a day. Some are photos of stolen vehicles along with information like vehicle identification numbers and license-plate numbers, others are pictures of suspicious vehicles people think may be stolen. Bounties and rewards for returning cars are forbidden on the group, as are monetary tips. Other cities have similar Facebook groups. One in Detroit has nearly 50,000 members and another in Dallas has 24,000. PDX Stolen Cars has earned enough respect that it has collaborated with local police 8 times since last July on operations to locate large numbers of stolen vehicles. “They’re really providing you the best leads,” said police officer Michael Terrett.

Nationwide, vehicle thefts rose steadily from 2019 to 2023, says the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That was partly due to a raft of stolen Kias and Hyundais, which led to lawsuits and a settlement by the companies. Nationwide auto thefts rose 1% last year to 1.02 million. Oregon reported a 27% decrease, the second biggest U.S. drop behind Utah. Portland car thefts were down 40% in March from the same month last year, at 442.


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