Published Tuesday, August 23, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle
California takes 7 of nation's top 10 car-theft hot spots
Contra Costa, Alameda counties climb to No. 6 rank
By Henry K. Lee
The East Bay moved up a notch to No. 6 on an insurance industry list
of the nation's top 10 auto-theft hot spots, joining six California
cities on a roster that reflects the steady increase in the number of
cars stolen in the Golden State each year.
Modesto topped the list for the second year in a row, with the
Stockton-Lodi area and Sacramento placing ahead of the East Bay and
Fresno coming in at No. 9, according to data released Monday by the
National Insurance Crime Bureau.
California's dominance of the list is no surprise to the insurance
industry and law officers, as auto thefts have climbed in the state
during the past five years even as they've fallen 2.6 percent
nationally last year, said Adam Cuevas, a deputy chief for the
California Highway Patrol.
The state's many ports make it an attractive target for auto theft
rings, officials said, because stolen vehicles can quickly and easily
be whisked overseas. But 85 percent of the cars stolen each year are
taken by criminals who use them in other crimes, Cuevas said.
"In other words, somebody takes the vehicle to do something else," he
said. "It's not the professional car thieves that are going to chop
up the vehicle or export it out of the state."
The rankings on the Insurance Crime Bureau's list are determined by
the number of vehicle thefts per 100,000 residents.
The East Bay -- which includes Alameda and Contra Costa counties and
is identified by the Insurance Crime Bureau as "Oakland" -- has
steadily climbed since 2000, when it ranked 52nd. Last year it was
But as in previous years, the Central Valley -- including Modesto,
Stockton-Lodi, Sacramento and Fresno -- saw higher rates of auto theft
than San Francisco, which ranked 22nd.
"We've worked very hard to address this," Cuevas said. "It certainly
concerns us. We have done everything we can in our power, with our
limited resources, to try and address the issue."
Because stolen cars often are used in other crimes, many local law
enforcement agencies allow officers to chase stolen vehicles, treating
auto theft as a serious offense instead of a mere property crime,
authorities said. But that policy has occasionally led to injuries or
deaths of innocent motorists, police acknowledge.
To combat car theft, the CHP and local police agencies work together
on regional task forces, such as the Alameda County Regional Auto
Theft Task Force. As an incentive to police, the CHP and AAA of
Northern California sponsor the annual 10851 Award for those officers
who recover the most stolen vehicles. The award is named after the
vehicle code section addressing auto theft.
Cuevas said in most cases stolen cars are recovered.
"It's great that we get a lot of the vehicles back, but we need to
stop the thefts from happening in the first place," he said.
Motorists should use common sense and use alarms or other devices that
immobilize their vehicle, said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the
But no method is foolproof, Scafidi said. "No matter what you drive,
no matter where you live, if a car thief wants your car, you could
bury it in concrete and they're going to get it," he said.
E-mail Henry K. Lee at hlee@...
Car Theft Hot Spots
Here are the top 10 cities in the nation for stolen vehicles in 2004,
with rate of thefts per 100,000 vehicles. (Other Bay Area cities are
listed below the top 10.)
1. Modesto / 1571.38
2. Stockton-Lodi / 1448.37
3. Las Vegas / 1266.18
4. Phoenix-Mesa / 1241.47
5. Sacramento / 1151.40
6. Oakland (East Bay) / 1038.85
7. Visalia-Tulare-Porterville / 1032.55
8. San Diego / 973.62
9. Fresno / 950.66
10. Seattle-Bellvue-Everett / 944.54
22. San Francisco / 743.13
32. Vallejo-Fairfield-Napa / 653.20
91. San Jose / 438.37
147. Santa Rosa / 327.94
Note: Some cities are grouped together, and other cities may include
the surrounding region, in accordance with the Office of Management
and Budget's "Metropolitan Statistical Areas".
Source: National Insurance Crim Bureau