California Has Most Hot Spots for Car Theft

California is home to nine of the 10 regions in the U.S. with the highest rate of auto thefts as criminals target San Francisco and its surrounding cities.

The San Francisco Bay Area, including Oakland and Hayward among other towns, was fourth among “hot spots” for the thefts last year, climbing from sixth in 2012, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said today in a report. The Bakersfield, Fresno and Modesto regions in California were the three most vulnerable. The state had eight of the top hot spots in 2012 and seven in 2011, NICB said.

“We have an international border and we also have our ports” contributing to auto theft, Fran Clader, a spokeswoman for the California Highway Patrol, said in phone interview. “We have dense population areas where there are these vehicles that present opportunities for thieves.”

Exports have been subject to fewer inspections after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks diverted federal resources, giving more opportunities to thieves looking to ship vehicles abroad, the CHP said in a 2011 report. Clader said the state has task forces to combat the crime, and auto thefts went down in California by 2 percent in 2013.

NICB estimated nationwide vehicle thefts dropped about 3 to 4 percent in 2013 from a year earlier, Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the insurance-industry group, said in a phone interview. Better recovery technology and car-safety features may have pushed thefts down to their lowest level since 1967, NICB said, citing preliminary figures.

Bakersfield, Harrisonburg

Bakersfield had about 725 thefts for every 100,000 people last year, according to the NICB. That compares with 649 in the San Francisco area and 122 in the New York City region, which ranked 242nd in the U.S.

The Harrisonburg, Virginia-area had the lowest rate among more than 300 regions tracked by the NICB, with 21 per 100,000 people. The Spokane, Washington, region was the only metropolitan statistical area in the top 10 that isn’t in California.

Vehicle protection specialists at the NICB said to park in well-lit areas and use audible alarms and kill switches to protect from auto theft. Owners can also install tracking devices to help law enforcement recover stolen autos.

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