Stolen tires, rims a growing problem in Rhode Island communities

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Had tires stolen off your car recently? You’re not alone.

A Target 12 review of police data and interviews with law enforcement officials has revealed there has been an uptick in tires and rims swiped from cars statewide.

Providence Police Major Oscar Perez said a series of arrests two years ago stemmed the robberies in the city for a while, but the crime is back on the rise.

“It’s not just Providence, the whole nation is going through this problem,” Perez said. “Several communities in the state of Rhode Island are going through this problem as well.”

Data from the Cranston Police Department shows they had 29 tire and rim thefts in 2015. That number jumped to 41 in 2016.

Tracy Smith of Providence was using a rental car after an accident when – on the day she was to return the car – she walked out of her house to find it was missing its tires.

“I looked at the car and went ‘oh no, I have no tires,'” Smith said. “They didn’t even use cinder blocks; they just found some like oversized rocks and stuck the car on that.”

A review of police reports found that was the method used in a brazen theft at Pleasant View Elementary School in Providence in November. Twice, thieves targeted cars in the parking lot sometime between 8:30 and 10 a.m. – when school was in session.

The cars were jacked up, tires swiped, the vehicle was then lowered onto large rocks.

“Staff came into work, parked the vehicles, the criminals came around, found the target, and took advantage of it,” said Perez.

Cars have also been targeted at the parking lot at the Amtrak station in South Kingstown and a quiet suburb in Coventry.

Cranston police arrested six men in January 2015 which they say slowed some of the thefts. Each of the defendants eventually pleaded no contest to some of the charges, but Perez said they need the public’s help in cracking down on the epidemic.

For the most part, the bad guys have to be caught in the act.

“Have those extra eyes for us,” Perez said. “The faster we respond and the more information we have for our officers … the chances are going to go up and we’re going to make an apprehension.”

“That is usually how it happens,” he added.

Perez also suggested the motoring public invest in locking lug nuts or park a car up against a curb – or even better, a wall – to slow the thieves down.

A review of police reports found a wide variety of cars that were being targeted, but several models were popping up more frequently.

Perez said they have seen one car hit more often than others: “For some reason the Honda Accord sport edition.”

“It’s got the new rims, the new look,” Perez said. “It seems like they are pretty much a target.”

Smith said her rental was a Nissan Altima, and she actually decided on a model that wasn’t being targeted as frequently when she recently made a purchase to replace the car she lost in the accident (she declined to say what kind of car it was).

“They have ways,” she said. “If they want something, they’ll take it.”

Perez said they often find the hot merchandise on Craigslist, but they also found some rims are a black market special order.

“From the information we get, there are a lot people that actually put out an order and these guys will go out there looking for these items,” Perez explained.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

This report was modified from the original to reflect the date of arrests in Cranston and to correct the model of car Smith was drivingm which was a Nissan Altima, not a Sentra as previously reported.