A Northwest Territories polar bear licence plate on a Yellowknife street in April 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Instances of licence plate theft show a “marked increase” in Yellowknife since the start of 2019 according to police figures.
The Northwest Territories’ unique licence plates, shaped to resemble a polar bear, are almost a tourist attraction in their own right and routinely attract attention when seen outside the territory.
Responding to anecdotal evidence of an increase in thefts from local vehicles, Cabin Radio asked the city’s RCMP detachment for statistics.
Police said there were 23 reports of licence plate theft in the opening two months of the year.
By contrast, just six reports of missing or stolen plates were filed between September and December 2018.
“There does appear to be a marked increase between the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019,” said RCMP spokesperson Marie York-Condon.
Police do not keep sufficiently detailed statistics to allow a year-on-year comparison.
In early March, a Yellowknife resident reported the theft of their licence plate to Cabin Radio.
“The RCMP guy said that in previous years about eight plates go missing,” the resident said.
In that instance, the plate was stolen while the vehicle was at a local repair shop.
In general, said RCMP, the thefts appear to be taking place in public areas rather than outside homes or on driveways.
“One common denominator that has emerged is that the missing or stolen plates reported have been in areas of public parking, apartment buildings, or business parking lots,” said York-Condon.
“Few have been reported from residential homes or properties.”
While stories are told of Yellowknife rental cars losing their licence plates to overenthusiastic tourists, a local Hertz representative said on Thursday he had seen no instances of such theft in his six months with the company.
No plates recovered
Police say it’s not clear why there might have been a recent spike in licence plate thefts, or what’s happening to the plates once stolen.
Plates from the NWT of varying vintages are readily available on websites like eBay, though they rarely command more than $50 each. Most appear to be listed by US-based dealers offering plates from a range of jurisdictions.
Souvenir plates sold by NWT Tourism retail at $24.95, though the organization’s online store suggested those plates are currently sold out, such is the demand.
“At this time, there are no corroborating reports indicating it is a single suspect, nor that it could be a group of suspects,” said York-Condon.
“Each report stands as its own investigation. At this time, no licence plates have been recovered.
“To our knowledge, the reported plates have not been involved in any criminal activity to date.”
For now, police advise residents to regularly check their vehicle’s plates and report a missing plate as soon as possible.