California cities lead nation in per capita car theft

California cities, especially those in the Central Valley, top the nation in per capita car thefts, a new tally finds.


California cities — especially those in the Central Valley — topped the list of metropolitan areas with the highest automobile theft rates last year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Bakersfield topped the national list, followed by Fresno, Modesto, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Stockton-Lodi region and Redding.

Spokane, Wash., was seventh nationally and the only city in the top 10 outside of California. It was followed by the Vallejo-Fairfield region, San Jose and Yuba City.


California historically places high in the insurance group’s annual rankings, but this is the first time that the Golden State has been home to nine of the 10 localities with the highest per capita vehicle theft rates. In 2012 it held eight of the top 10 spots, and in 2011 seven, according to the report.

Bakersfield had a rate of 725 thefts per 100,000 residents last year, Fresno 707 and Modesto 678. San Francisco came in at 649 and Stockton was 634.

California also topped the state rankings of most cars stolen last year with 176,745 vehicle thefts. It was followed by Texas with 69,664, Florida with 38,195, Washington with 28,123 and Illinois with 26,302.

“California has always had the most auto thefts since we have been taking statistics starting in the early 1960s,” said Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the bureau. “That is because it has many more vehicles than any other state in the country.”

The state’s mild weather helps preserve older cars, he said, meaning more opportunities for thieves who covet them for their spare parts.

The state’s international border is also a factor.

“A lot of vehicles get driven into Mexico, where they are sold,” Scafidi said.

And the large ports in the state are yet another reason. Cars — often luxury or exotic autos — are stolen, hidden in shipping containers and sent overseas, Scafidi said.

He said a 1957 Chevy Bel Air, stolen from Lakeport, Calif., in 1982, was found in a shipping container bound for Australia at the Port of Los Angeles in February. Customs and law enforcement officials made the discovery and returned the classic car to the owner.

Auto thefts are experiencing a long-term decease in the U.S., the insurance group said. Thefts peaked in 1991 at nearly 1.7 million nationwide but have dropped 58% to an estimated 697,979 in 2013. Last year’s total was about equivalent to the number of thefts in 1967.

The insurance group’s report examines vehicle theft data obtained from the National Crime Information Center for each of the nation’s metropolitan statistical areas. These often include areas much larger than the cities for which they are named. For example, Bakersfield includes all thefts in Kern County.

A region can rank high on the list even though its volume of thefts is much smaller than other areas. Yuba City, which includes all of sparsely populated Sutter County, ranked 10th with a rate of 551 per 100,000 population, based on 930 total thefts. The Los Angeles metropolitan area had 50,758 thefts, down 2.6% from the previous year, but ranked 29th on the insurance group’s list with a rate of 387 per 100,000.

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