Modesto Tops San Francisco With Worst Vehicle-Theft Rate in U.S.

  • Albuquerque, Bakersfield have second- and third-highest rates
  • State College, Pennsylvania, enjoys low rate of theft

The Modesto, California, area had the worst auto theft rate in the U.S. last year, overtaking the San Francisco Bay region.

Modesto had 756 thefts per 100,000 people, up from about 573 a year earlier, when it ranked fifth-worst in the country, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said Monday in a report. Albuquerque, New Mexico, had the second-highest rate. San Francisco improved to No. 5 from No. 1 in 2014.

California, which is the most populous state in the U.S. and is known for its vast network of roads, is an attractive target for car thieves. With borders along the Pacific Ocean and Mexico, the state is vulnerable to criminals who break into newer, high-end vehicles and then ship them abroad. Older vehicles are stolen primarily for parts, the NICB said in the statement.

In a state with so many residents, “along with the very decent people, you get other people who make a living or do things on the dark side,” Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the NICB, said in a phone interview. “So we have a lot of auto thieves, always have, in California.”

The state held eight of the top 10 “hot spots” in the ranking, including No. 3 Bakersfield. The San Francisco area, which includes Oakland, had about 656 thefts for every 100,000 people last year. That compares with 110 in the New York City area. A representative for Modesto’s police force didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Salisbury, Maryland and State College, Pennsylvania, are among the nation’s least-vulnerable regions to car theft. Each had less than 30 per 100,000 people.

Common Sense

Auto theft nationwide was up about 1 percent in the first six months of 2015, as drivers made more trips amid lower fuel prices. Still, the crime has mostly been in decline in recent years, in part because of improved technology. Alarms can thwart criminals, as can devices such as smart keys, which make it harder to hot-wire vehicles. The NICB also encourages common-sense prevention, such as removing the keys from the ignition when making quick stops.

The bureau is a not-for-profit organization funded by insurers that seeks to prevent and combat insurance fraud and other crimes. The Des Plaines, Illinois-based NICB uses data provided by law enforcement and the U.S. Census Bureau to assemble its car-theft reports for the metropolitan statistical areas.

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