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Encinitas auto thefts up, but overall crime rate down this year, Sheriff’s Department reports

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Addressing panhandling, enforcing traffic laws in school zones and e-bike education are priorities for coming year

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The city’s overall crime rate dropped by 25 percent this year, but there was a spike in auto thefts, Sheriff’s Department Capt. Dustin Lopez told the City Council on Dec. 21.

Auto thefts were up by 10 percent compared to last year, and that’s due to a rash of cases that occurred during a several-week period in March and April, he said.

Law enforcement efforts are about to get a boost thanks to new vehicle license plate-reading camera systems, which the council agreed to purchase last month, Lopez added. The new camera equipment, which will be installed at several major roadway entry points to Encinitas, will continuously scan the plates of passing vehicles. If there’s a match indicating that the vehicle was stolen or otherwise involved in a crime, deputies are alerted.

Deputies already are using portable license plate-reading camera equipment on relocatable trailers. Those trailer systems helped the deputies make arrests in a challenging series of residential burglaries where the culprits were driving airport rental vehicles, he added. In those cases, it was hard to catch the criminals in the act of burglarizing the homes because they didn’t stay long — they would break a home’s back side window, grab any visible items of value and quickly flee, Lopez said. With the camera systems and the airport rental information, the deputies were able to track down the vehicles.

While auto thefts were up this past year in Encinitas, other criminal activity was down, particularly sex offenses, which fell by 80 percent — something that Lopez said he was very pleased to see.

Lopez said his deputies at the North Coastal Sheriff’s Department station, which handles policing duties in Encinitas, will focus on three key areas in the coming new year:

  • Reducing merchant and resident complaints about “aggressive” homeless people panhandling for money or camping on private property;
  • Increasing enforcement of traffic laws in school zones;
  • Expanding electric bike education efforts.

Merchants have been asking the deputies do much more to reduce the panhandling and camping issues, Lopez said. Aggressive panhandling has been a particular problem at the Vons shopping center just west of Interstate 5 on Santa Fe Drive, while people sleeping in storefront entryways has been an issue along downtown’s Coast Highway 101, he said.

Deputies will be using a two-pronged approach, offering to link homeless people up with social service programs to help them get off the streets, but also notifying them that they are trespassing when they engage in unwanted activities on private property, he said.

When it comes to e-bikes, Lopez said he’s hoping to start a program where people who receive tickets for violating city ordinances can get their tickets dismissed if they attend a four-hour bike safety course.

“We’re seeing a lot more e-bike accidents,” he adding, mentioning one where two e-cyclists clipped each other going 25 mph and both ended up in the hospital.

Council members said they were pleased to hear about the e-bike education proposal. Councilmember Joy Lyndes said she’s been learning about how Carlsbad is handing the situation, while Mayor Tony Kranz said he recently went to a bike safety class and was disappointed by the sparse attendance.


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