The rate of motor vehicle theft in California is almost twice the national average, according to Location Inc., a Massachusetts-based firm that provides relocation software and real estate investment advice. And according to a new report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, it’s getting worse.
Eight of the top 10 cities for auto theft nationwide are in California, up from six cities last year. Sacramento, Stockton and Bakersfield are among the worst.
All of the cities on our list, from Fresno (No.1 with a theft rate of 812.40 per 100,000) to Yakima (No. 10 with a theft rate of 520.49), had much more frequent instances of theft than the cities at the bottom. Elmira, N.Y., for example, has an auto-theft rate of just 37.15 per 100,000 — that translates into just 33 cars stolen there last year. For the second year in a row, State College, Pa., had the lowest rate of auto theft in the nation, with just 29.87 thefts per 100,000 people.
One interesting note: No cities east of the Rocky Mountains made this year’s list.
Why is California the big offender? There’s no one reason, says Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the NICB, but a large population with a high rate of vehicle ownership is a contributing factor.
Its border towns and centrally located cities like Stockton, Calif., are nodes for traffickers moving narcotics, money and weapons. According to the 2010 FBI Crime Report, Sacramento, Oakland and Stockton had some of the highest violent crime rates in the country last year. Department of Justice as transit points for Mexican drug cartels.
Population density is another key factor to theft rates, Scafidi says. It’s for obvious reasons — the denser the population, the lower the rate.
California’s warm weather also tempts people to be more carefree about leaving windows rolled down and convertible tops open, says Terri Miller, director of the Michigan-based Help Eliminate Auto Theft program — both of which present tempting invitations for opportunistic thieves.
Car tires and rims have strong resale values on the black market, and catalytic converters are hot items thanks to high prices for the precious metals they contain. Airbags can fetch $200 on the black market, according to the Insurance Information Institute; airbag theft costs more than $50 million each year for insurers and vehicle owners.
All told, auto theft costs consumers and insurance companies more than $8 billion every year, according to FBI statistics. And of the more than 1 million vehicles stolen annually, fewer than 60 percent of them are recovered.
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