If preliminary estimates for the first half of last year hold, U.S. car thefts for 2016 will top three-quarters of a million — a nearly 7 percent spike and the highest it's been in seven years. And while California continues to be the Golden State for auto thieves, accounting for six of the top 10 most problematic metro areas, Albuquerque, N.M., has stolen the top spot as the nation's car-theft capital.
Albuquerque logged 10,011 stolen cars for 2016, a 50 percent increase versus 2015, bumping it up from the No. 2 spot to first place on the National Insurance Crime Bureau's 2016 Hot Spots auto-theft report. While that ranking may seem curious in the face of Los Angeles' nearly 61,000 car thefts, more than 13 million people call the L.A. area home, dwarfing the Albuquerque area's roughly 900,000 and making the likelihood of having one's car stolen comparably smaller on a per-capita basis.
Bearing that in mind, NICB's auto-theft Hot Spots for 2016 are:
10. Billings, Mont.
9. Fresno, Calif.
8. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, Calif.
7. Merced, Calif.
6. Anchorage, Alaska
5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.
4. Modesto, Calif.
3. Bakersfield, Calif.
2. Pueblo, Colo.
1. Albuquerque, N.M.
It's worth noting that Anchorage and Billings are new to the top 10 this year, with 2,273 and 877 stolen cars reported, respectively. That should give people from cities typically associated with high crime rates such as Detroit and St. Louis a nice little contrarian factoid to bust out at parties.
The anticipated 6.6 percent increase in auto thefts for 2016 is significant, as it is one of only three years during the past decade that the crime's rate has gone up, and increases in 2012 and 2015 were just 1.7 percent and 1 percent, respectively. Moreover, the average decrease in the seven years the crime's rate went down was 8.4 percent, with the biggest dips coming in 2008 (13.1 percent) and 2009 (17.2 percent).
Despite this, overall, vehicle theft is down dramatically from its peak in 1991, when the U.S. posted nearly 1.7 million thefts compared with fewer than 708,000 in 2015, a 57 percent reduction. Much of this improvement is attributable to antitheft technologies on modern vehicles such as smart keys.
"Vehicle manufacturers, law enforcement and legislatures have been responsive to the crime of vehicle theft over the years and the results are evident," NICB stated in its report. "Vehicle owners must guard against complacency and remember to heed simple tips to safeguard their vehicles."
NICB urges car owners to avoid leaving keys and fobs in their cars with the Used Engine running, lock doors and close windows, park in well-lit areas, use some sort of visible or audible device such as an alarm or steering-column collar and consider using a tracking device that emits a signal police can use to hunt down a stolen car.