The number of vehicle thefts nationwide rose in 2012 and driving the increase was a significant jump in thefts in the Western U.S., according to a report released Wednesday by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

The NICB reported a 1.3 percent increase in thefts nationwide between 2011 and 2012, while 13 states in the Western region of the U.S. saw an aggregate 10.6 percent increase. The nationwide increase breaks year-after-year declines in auto thefts that had lasted eight years.

“For the people in the day-to-day fight against auto theft, this isn’t something that they like to see,” said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the NICB. “But overall, one year’s 1.3 percent increase nationally is not anything to get concerned about. The vehicle theft problem is nowhere near where it was 10 years ago.”

The figures were based on data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which will publish finalized figures this fall.

The NICB is an investigatory agency funded by insurers that provides support and analysis to crime-fighting efforts in the industry.

A Wild West for Car Thefts

The NICB compiled the FBI data into its region-by-region “Hot Spots” report, which showed that 8 of the 10 top “metropolitan areas” where auto thefts occur most were in California; the other two were Washington state, which is also counted in Hot Spots as part of the Western U.S.

In fact, all other regions of the U.S. — the Midwest, Northeast and South — saw drops in vehicle theft numbers in 2012.

Scafidi said that the Western U.S., especially California, has historically shown high theft figures.

“Even a few years ago when numbers were precipitously dropping, California was going against the grain,” he said in an interview with Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN). “The unfortunate reality is that California has had most of the nation’s car thefts for a long time running now.”

Scafidi said that the high number of car thefts throughout California could be attributed to many factors, the chief among those being financial constraints for law enforcement departments and agencies.

“There have been extensive cuts to law enforcement that I’ve never seen in my lifetime,” he said. “You know times are tough when public safety, which is usually the last to see cuts, is seeing layoffs and slimmer budgets. It’s just a reality of these days and times.”

Scafidi also said that California simply has more drivers and vehicles, which pushes up theft rates.

Hot Spots bases its rankings on a “per capita review” of car thefts, a formula that often puts metropolitan areas with small populations and moderate theft numbers at the top.

The areas of Modesto, Fresno, Bakersfield-Delano and Stockton ended up in the latest Hot Spots report as first, second, third and fourth in the rankings, respectively.

“Los Angeles loses more vehicles in the seventh-inning stretch of a Dodgers game than other cities do in a day,” Scafidi said. “But L.A. has a huge population so compared with its car thefts, although it may be bigger in number compared to other metro areas, it never makes our top 10.”

The states in the Western region are:









–New Mexico





A Look to the Future

The future still looks bright for car security, said Scafidi, who said the one-year jump in auto theft numbers is likely “an anomaly.”

Even the recently reported 1.3 percent increase couldn’t completely wipe out the progress the nation has seen in auto thefts, which in 2011 hit lows not seen in more than 40 years.

One positive reason is the growth of antitheft technology that has become standard in new vehicles, according to Scafidi.

“Older vehicles aren’t equipped with those features,” he said. “And more of those older vehicles, which make up a good number of thefts, will become less and less available as theft targets.”

As that happens, he said, technology will continue its growth trend and span everything from smartkey protection to smartphone protection.

“Smartphones let you cook your chicken on your way home from work,” he said. “So I foresee in the not-so-distant future that applications will let you know if someone’s leaning on your car or climbing on your car. Imagine what that will do to protect your car.”