SALEM -- If you’ve had your car stolen in Salem, you’re far from alone.
Numbers released by the Salem Police Department show a 61 percent increase in car thefts from 2011 to 2012.
Two years ago, 437 cars were reported stolen. The number spiked last year to 705 stolen cars.
Salem Police Lt. Steve Birr believes a reduction in beds at the Marion County Jail had a direct effect on the increase, though a county official disputes that.
In late 2011, budget cuts forced Marion County to eliminate more than 100 beds from the jail. As a result, Birr said, lower-level offenders like car thieves are released sooner.
“We simply can’t keep property crimes offenders lodged in jail because they’re low on the threat matrix. So when they jail gets full, they get capped out,” Birr said.
He offers Nichole Hickman as an example.
Birr said that Hickman admitted to stealing more than 100 cars. Records show she was arrested for stealing three cars in January alone.
A spokesman for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, acknowledged that fewer beds are part of the problem.
But the spokesman said that there were too many other factors to simply blame the spike in car thefts on reduction in capacity alone.