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Where does your hometown rank? A new study looks at all 336 of the nation’s metro areas. Cars in California ‘hot spots’ were dozens of times more likely to be stolen.
By MSN Money staff
In a new study of 2004 crimes, Modesto, Calif., keeps its crown as the auto-theft capital of the country.
In fact, California cities claimed seven of the 10 worst spots in the ranking of 336 metro areas by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Of the worst 20 cities for theft, 11 are in California. Las Vegas, Phoenix and Seattle elbowed their way into the worst 10 as well.
Los Angeles alone reported 73,000 car thefts.
The NICB didn’t rank on the basis of raw numbers, though. The nonprofit insurance association instead took data supplied by the National Crime Information Center and Census figures to calculate a theft rate per 100,000 population. By that measure, for example, Myrtle Beach, S.C., cracked the worst 20 even with just 1,500 thefts. With a metro area population of 196,000, its theft rate of 769 per 100,000 population is worse than Los Angeles’.
Theft rates rose most dramatically in yet another California city, Santa Barbara. Thefts rose more than 50% from 2002 to 2004, and its ranking of 254 in 2002 sank to 163 for 2004. Anniston, Ala., Ventura, Calif., Columbus, Ga., and Colorado Springs, Colo., also slipped more than 60 places as their theft rates worsened.
Seeing the most improvement were Lawrence, Mass., rated No. 66 for 2002 and No. 183 for 2004, Arecibo, Puerto Rico, and Sioux City, Iowa.
In 2004, you were least likely to have a brush with car thieves in State College, Pa., population 135,000, which reported just 60 thefts.
The good news
In 2004 there was a slight drop in auto theft nationally. Preliminary FBI data shows a 2.6% decrease in motor vehicle thefts from 2003’s activity and that is good news for consumers, law enforcement and the insurance industry. This decrease comes after four years of steadily rising auto theft figures.
"The small reduction in auto thefts is good news for our member companies and the general public," said NICB President and Chief Executive Officer Robert M. Bryant. "NICB has attacked this problem through expanded efforts with our member companies and law enforcement and by embarking on an aggressive public awareness campaign to educate and inform consumers of the many ways in which they can help prevent auto theft," Bryant said.
The NICB recommends a "layered approach" to protection to minimize risk:
Common sense: An unlocked vehicle with a key in the ignition is an open invitation to any thief. You should always remove your keys from the ignition, lock your doors and close your windows and park in a well-lighted area.
Warn thieves away: The second layer of protection is a visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular second layer devices include audible alarms, steering-column collars and locks, wheel locks, theft-deterrent decals, ID markers on the car and VIN etching on the glass.
Immobilize the car: The third layer prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated. Popular third layer devices include smart keys, kill switches and starter, ignition, and fuel pump disablers.
Track the car: The final layer of protection is a tracking device which emits a signal to police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles.