Bellingham man starts trail patrols as car prowls increase nearly 200% citywide

The bright sun and nice temperatures are expected to drive thousands of people to local trails this weekend, but vehicle prowls have been a growing concern for those heading out to enjoy a hike.

In the Bellingham area, police say reports of car prowls across the city are up nearly 200% over the same time last year.

Spokesperson Lt Claudia Murphy says so far this year, around 920 vehicle prowls were reported. That's up significantly from the same time last year.  She says in 2021 there were around 309 reported and in 2020 there were 294.

Some area trails have been especially hard hit, including the Chuckanut Trail and the surrounding parking areas.

"I don’t feel safe going to any of the trail heads and that’s terrible," said Lynn Bakeman.  Her car was broken into last Tuesday while hiking just down the road from the Chuckanut Trailhead at Teddy Bear Cove.

"Windows broken, all the stuff from my console was on the front seat with the broken glass and stuff," said Lynn.

After a fun day at the beach with her daughter and her boyfriend, they returned to find the damage.

"I lost that sense I could go out and enjoy this place," said Lynn.

In response to increased reports of car prowls on the trails, Steve Avila, a Bellingham business owner, has formed a group of volunteers to try to make sure some of those who visit the trails in the Bellingham and Whatcom County area stay safe.

"Every time you come in here there’s new glass," Steve said after finding evidence of car prowls at the Chuckanut Trailhead.

Steve has created a unique parking area patrol program that's made up of volunteers and some of his employees.

 "I think showing a presence deters them from coming in," he said. "We select trails based n the feedback we get from hikers."

Once a location is chosen, volunteers sign up online.

"We can oversee the full parking lot from here," said Steve.

The group puts up a tent in the parking area, offering refreshments while watching the vehicles.  "We have snacks, coffee water it’s a great place to meet each other," he said.

Asia Warren, signed up as a volunteer.  "I personally love to hike and one of the reasons I’ve stopped hiking is because of the fear my car is going to get broken into," she said.

Caleb Rodriguez says he's taking a volunteer patrol shift at least once a month.

"More people are breaking into cars, and it’s just unacceptable, and I feel like as a community we should step up," Rodriguez said.

Steve advises that when you do go hiking, don't leave things of value in your vehicle.  Bring your wallet, phone and small valuables on the trail with you and make it apparent that there isn't anything in your car.

Lt. Claudia Murphy says that hikers should take everything out of their vehicle and make sure they have a "clean car".  She says there shouldn't be anything on the seats.  Backpacks and bags should not be left out in the vehicle and things like loose change and phone cords should also not be visible.  If thieves see a phone cord, she says they may think there is a phone somewhere in the vehicle.  She says if your credit cards get stolen, contact police and also the credit card company immediately to cancel the card.  It's also advised that you alert the credit reporting agencies so the thief or thieves cannot open a new card in your name.

Lynn says the patrol project is helping to educate the public.  "Fortunately because of people like Steve who’ve been putting out notices, I had nothing of value in my car," said Lynn.

Steve says he's confident that people are going to rally around his trail watch project because the spirit of neighbors helping neighbors is strong in the community.

"I know the spirit is still there. The spirit of community and helping each other. And I’ve seen it in just a months time. I think it’s going to be a great thing," said Steve.

Steve says the volunteer patrol will be at the Rufus trailhead at Lookout Mountain Preserve this weekend.   He says you can sign up to participate in the trail patrol program by emailing: Support1@bellinghamevo.com

Lt. Claudia Murphy says "straight thefts" have also increased city wide in Bellingham with more than 1,100 reported so far in 2022 compared to around 679 reported during the same time period in 2021.