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Phoenix Has Highest Auto Theft Rate


April 30, 2002
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Phoenix Has Highest Auto Theft Rate

Associated Press

Border and port cities continued to attract car thieves and posted the highest vehicle theft rates in the nation last year, an insurance industry group said.

The Phoenix area, followed by Miami, Fresno, Calif., Detroit, and Sacramento, Calif., were ranked as the top five metropolitan areas for auto thefts in 2001, The National Insurance Crime Bureau said in a report released Tuesday.

In 2001, the top 10 metropolitan areas in rates of vehicle theft were all at, or within easy reach of, U.S. borders and ports, according to the report.

"International demand is a major part of auto theft," said Michael Erwin, media relations director for the nonprofit group. "It's no longer the 16-year-old out joy-riding, it's the organized crime ring that's going to get the vehicle out of the country as quickly as possible."

FBI figures for metropolitan statistical areas show the Phoenix area had 1,081 reported auto thefts in 2001 for every 100,000 of its residents, the report said.

"A lot of (the vehicles) are taken to nearby Indian reservations or south to Mexico where the local and federal government can't go," Phoenix police officer Kevin Morison said.

"It's definitely a high priority (for police) and with the resources available, they do as much as they can do," Morison said. "It's not like it goes unnoticed, residents are aware, it's always been high here."

Other metropolitan areas in the top ten were Tucson, Ariz.; Tacoma, Wash.; Stockton-Lodi, Calif.; Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.; and Jersey City, N.J.

"We always try to stress in this study that it's not just about being number one or number two," Erwin said. "If you're in the top 10, your area has a major problem."

The Detroit area, which ranked second in 1999 and 2000, fell to fourth place with 884 reported auto thefts per 100,000 residents. And Flint, Mich., improved on an 11th place 2000 ranking to come in 31st in 2001.

The Stockton-Lodi, Calif., area jumped into the number eight spot from a 24th ranking last year. But Jackson, Miss., and Albuquerque, N.M., fell out of the top 10 to the 16th and 21st spots respectively.

"There are some communities that are getting a grip on auto theft," Erwin said. "But the list is pretty much staying the same."

Erwin said the most recent available FBI statistics show that auto theft rates increased 1.2 percent from 1999 to 2000.

That's the first increase in eight years, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade organization. According to that group, a vehicle is stolen every 27 seconds in the United States. And theft costs totaled nearly $7.8 billion in 2000.

Erwin said preliminary FBI statistics for the first half of 2002 show that auto thefts will continue to rise.

"And this year is different from any other year that we've released this study because law enforcement is definitely being shifted around after September 11th," Erwin said.

"I think (auto thefts) are going to be a trend now," he added. "We're going to have more and more auto theft task forces reassigned and we're going to see car thieves taking advantage."

That's exactly why motorists need to take more precautions than ever to protect their vehicles, Erwin said.

"Common sense plays a definite role," he said. "If you take the keys, lock the doors and close up your windows, you're adding a layer of protection right there."

Erwin's group also recommends applying other "layers", such as steering wheel locks, alarms and tracking devices that give police the location of stolen vehicles.




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