NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Car Theft Declines

August 26, 1997

Prompted by mounting evidence that stolen cars are often linked to drug trafficking, robberies and other serious crimes, police are cracking down on the $7.6 billion car theft racket. As a result, the number of auto thefts nationwide is down to levels not seen since the 1980s.

  • After hitting a peak of 1.66 million in 1991, the number of cars stolen fell to 1.47 million in 1995 -- with another 5 percent drop expected when the FBI releases final figures for 1996 later this year.
  • Big cities are posting the best results -- thefts in New York City went down 58 percent from 1991 to 1996; 31 percent in Los Angeles County; 32 percent in Boston; and in Miami, 18 percent in just three years.
  • Consumers are pitching in -- spending a record $400 million last year on auto security devices.
  • However, auto theft is increasing in rural areas, and in Washington, D.C., which has just one detective assigned full time to auto theft investigations, the number of cars stolen has shot up 27 percent since 1991.

Authorities estimate that 25 percent of stolen vehicles are falsely reported by owners intent on scamming their insurance companies.

Police across the country are testing a number of new techniques, including greater utilization of computers, planting "bait" cars, etching vehicle ID numbers on windshields, screening owners and funding anti-theft programs through surcharges on drivers' licenses or license plates.

For the record, the most-stolen car in 1996 was the Honda Accord (23,225). Coming in a distant second was the Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme/Ciera (13,176).

Source: Deborah Sharp, "Crackdown is Making a Dent in Car Thefts," USA Today, August 26, 1997.


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