Despite high-profile cases, like the recent carjacking of Detroit pastor and gospel icon Marvin Winans, a nationwide crackdown on car theft is generating clear and positive results.
Two new reports suggest that auto theft rates fell once again in 2011, though there are some nagging hot spots that seem to be resisting the crackdown, especially along the West Coast.
Meanwhile, a recent study suggests that certain vehicles remain fair game for thieves, including the Chevrolet Corvette. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more than one in 10 Vettes has been heisted over the past 30 years.
The NICB, an insurance industry trade group, says the general trend is downward, with the majority of major metropolitan areas having seen a decline in overall car theft during 2011. Some communities, like Laredo, Texas, have seen significant declines.
Surprisingly, the problem has continued on a downward slope, experts note, throughout the nation’s ongoing economic slump. That’s a significant reversal of traditional patterns. But the FBI has found that, overall crime has slipped, as well.
The government agency recently reported a 3.3% decline in auto thefts for 2011 when compared to 2010’s 737,142. The FBI data are still preliminary and could be revised but is expected to continue pointing downward, and would follow a 7.2% decline in vehicle thefts in 2010.
The final figures, according to various reports, could show that thefts have now fallen to their lowest levels since the mid-1960s.
Give credit to a broad coalition of law-enforcement and private groups, such as NICB, that have been waging war against car theft. In Dallas, for example, police have been running stings, leaving “bait” cars in areas where car theft has been a particular problem – often with keys in the ignition.
Judges, meanwhile, are coming under increasing pressure to turn tough on a crime they often downplayed. In years past, many law enforcement officials complained, it would be far from uncommon for car thieves to be bailed out and back on the street before the arresting officers finished their paperwork.
Also helping are new high-tech devices which make it harder to steal a vehicle and, if one is stolen, can help authorities track where it is heading. Some of the more advanced systems, such as General Motors’ OnStar, can remotely reduce engine power or shut a vehicle off entirely, stranding thieves where they are easy to catch.
Laredo, Texas is a prime example of the downward trend. It led the nation among all metropolitan areas as recently as 2009 but fell to number 53 on the list two years later, car thefts being cut more than in half to just 849 last year, according to the NICB.
Not all the news is so upbeat, however. Preliminary data show that there are still some national hot spots. Four of the top 10 metro areas still reported an increase in car thefts. And the primary problem is along the West Coast, the NICB reports.
Seven of the top 10 were in California, in fact, including Fresno, which had the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of vehicle theft in the nation, and number two Modesto. Notably, the problem appears focused in cash-tight smaller communities away from the Pacific coastline.
Washington State had two cities on the top 10 list, including fourth-ranked Spokane and number five Yakima.
The only East Coast metro to make the dubious achievement list was Anderson, South Carolina, which ranked eighth on the list.