Portsmouth Police report spike in license plate thefts in recent weeks

Posted at 4:28 PM, Jan 25, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-25 18:19:57-05

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Portsmouth Police said they have seen a spike of people having their license plates stolen near High Street in the Olde Towne section of the city in recent weeks.

90-year-old Martha Batac couldn’t believe what happened to her car a few weeks ago.

“We came home and we didn’t have any license plates, and it just happened in one day overnight,” said Batac. 

She said her friend bought a new car a few months ago and a similar situation happened to her.

“She got up to go to work and they stripped everything. Everything that can be taken off a car from the outside, they took off her car and she called me. She was heartbroken. She couldn’t go to work. She wanted to show off the car to her friends,” said Batac.

Portsmouth Police said the overall numbers for 2018 are lower than 2017. They said they had a 8 percent reduction for stolen license plates in 2018 compared to 2017.

Related: Portsmouth Police explain why they think major crimes are down from 2017-2018

The overall total stolen license plates:

  • 2017: 807
  • 2018: 739

However, they’ve seen an uptick in stolen license plates in the past two months.

Year to date (January 1-22):

2018 vs 2019

  • 40 vs 58: 45 percent increase


2017 vs 2018

  • 56 vs 69: 23 percent increase

The Hampton Police Division had a decrease in stolen license plates. They had 106 license plate thefts reported in 2017 and 93 thefts reported in 2018.

In 2017, the City of Suffolk Police Department took 260 reports for license plates thefts. In 2018, the department took 187 reports for license plate thefts. This is a 28 percent decrease in reports written for license plate thefts from 2017 to 2018.

Norfolk Police said they have not noticed an increase in reports regarding license plate thefts recently.

Newport News Police released the following numbers:

  • 2017: 277
  • 2018: 296

As of Friday afternoon, News 3 is waiting to hear back from Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.

Police think a reason for the recent spike could be due to an increase in tolls.

“Ever since the tolls have become an issue, the numbers have gone up,” said Lt. Bryant Hall with the Portsmouth Police Department. “One of the theories is that people don’t want to pay the tolls. They steal a license plate and go through the tunnel. It goes on the stolen license plate.”

People we spoke with aren’t surprised by the theory.

“I know the tolls are in issue. They continue to be an issue - that’s why we’re moving back to Portsmouth. We come back to Portsmouth four or five times a week,” said Linda Kauffman.

But they say stealing is never an excuse, and for people like Batac, dealing with a stolen license plate was a big problem.

“I didn’t feel good because he [her husband] couldn’t go to work, and I’m retired,” said Batac. “I need to be transported back and forth from the doctor, and it was devastating to a certain extent.”

Police said it is vital to make a police report if your license plate is stolen.