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Auto theft on rise; California a "hotbed for hot cars"

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25:  Morning traffic fills the SR2 freeway on April 25, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The nation's second largest city, Los...
LOS ANGELES, Morning traffic fills a freeway on April 25, 2013 in Los Angeles. Latest insurance figures show California is the leading state for car theft in the United States. David McNew

Car thefts across the nation rose 1.3 percent last year, after declining for the previous eight and eight of the Top 10 “hot spots” for stealing cars were in California, where the financial crunch has reduced police manpower in some areas.

According to the Des Plaines, Ill.-based National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), Modesto, Calif., was the car theft capital of the U.S. last year, replacing Fresno, which finished second this time.

California was a “hotbed for hot cars,” said the NCIB report, which suggested a number of reasons why. Among the biggest problems: a cutback in police staffing levels at a time of serious financial problems at both the state and local community levels.

Other factors cited by Frank Scafidi, NICB’s director of public affairs, included:

· California’s proximity to ports, as well as the Mexican border, making it easier to get rid of hot cars;

· Weather that keeps popular older models in good shape; and

· Drug use that spurs theft by addicts seeking fast cash.

While California had eight of the Top 10 auto theft hot spots, the state of Washington laid claim to the other two. The West region of the country saw an overall increase of 10.6 percent year-over-year, while the Midwest, Northeast and Southern regions reported reductions of 3.1 percent, 7.9 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, according to the NICB.

Countering the western theft centers, Midland, Mich., and the Kahului-Wailuku-Lahaina, Hawaii, areas were bottom of the list for auto theft.

The NICB's list reviews vehicle thefts from the nation's metropolitan statistical areas; its data mirrors preliminary FBI vehicle-theft data for the same period. FBI statistics won’t be released until this fall.

The Top 10 list, with last year’s place on the list in parenthesis, is:

1. Modesto, Calif. (2)

2. Fresno, Calif. (1)

3. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif. (3)

4. Stockton, Calif. (7)

5. Yakima, Wash. (5)

6. San Francisco/Oakland/Hayward, Calif. (6)

7. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif. (20)

8. Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif. (9)

9. Spokane-Spokane Valley, Wash. (4)

10. Redding, Calif. (40)

California has routinely led the list of auto theft hot spots but the surge in the Western region during 2012 led to an overall upturn in U.S. car sales for the first time in eight years.

The NICB is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness.

The organization advises drivers to take precautions against vehicle theft starting with common-sense measures like removing keys from the ignition, locking doors and closing windows and parking in well-lit areas.

Beyond that, bigger and better anti-theft measures include installing a warning device such as a car alarm, using immobilizing devices such as a smart key or fuse cutoffs and using a tracking device that emits a signal to authorities if the vehicle is stolen.

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