NICB Says Port, Border Areas Special Targets for Vehicle Theft

June 23, 2003

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reported that nine of the top 10 metropolitan areas for vehicle theft are in or near ports and Canadian and Mexican borders or within easy reach of them.

The 10 metropolitan areas (MSAs) with the highest vehicle theft rates in 2002 were:
1. Phoenix, Ariz.;
2. Fresno, Calif.;
3. Modesto, Calif.;
4. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.;
5. Las Vegas, Nev.;
6. Miami, Fla.;
7. Sacramento, Calif.;
8. Oakland, Calif.;
9. Seattle, Wash.;
10. Tacoma, Wash.

The NICB’s study analyzed 2002 vehicle theft data for metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) collected by the FBI to develop a vehicle theft rate. MSAs, designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, include cities as well as communities in the surrounding area. For a listing of the vehicle theft rates in all 336 MSAs, visit

The NICB pointed out that nine of the top 25 MSAs with the highest vehicle theft rates are in California. Vehicle theft has surged in the state, growing from 182,000 in 2000 to 210,000 in 2001 and over 227,000 in 2002.

NICB also reported that 19 of those top 25 metropolitan areas are west of the Mississippi. NICB pointed out that the vehicle theft rates in several communities recorded noteworthy declines. For example, Miami fell from second in 2001 to sixth in 2002; Detroit declined from fourth in 2001 to 11th in 2002; Tucson dropped from sixth in 2001 to 13 in 2002 and Jersey City, N.J. fell from 10th in 2001 to 23rd in 2002.
FBI statistics show that vehicle theft increased 4.2 percent during the first six-months of 2002, compared with the same period in 2001 (latest data available), continuing an upward trend after over a 30 percent decline in the 1990s. Over 1.2 million vehicles, costing more than $8.2 billion dollars, are stolen nationwide each year.

At the same time, the recovery rate of stolen vehicles has declined from the mid 80 percent in the early 1990 to 62 percent in 2001 (latest data available). Many of the unrecovered vehicles are shipped overseas or driven across international borders. NICB estimates approximately 200,000 stolen vehicles are illegally exported out of the country each year.

“People who live in communities near ports and international borders need to pay special attention to protecting their cars and trucks from thieves,” Robert Bryant, NICB president and CFO, commented. He also noted that the decline in the recovery rate is particularly troublesome.

“The drop in recoveries of stolen vehicles indicates growth in well-organized, professional theft rings who direct stolen vehicles to ‘chop shops’ which dismantle them for parts or transport them out of the country,” Bryant said.

On the positive side, he said that the increased use of new Gamma Ray machines which X-Ray shipping containers as they arrive at port facilities is helping locate stolen vehicles.

The NICB recommends a layered approach to preventing theft, with the number of layers depending on the vehicle, geographic location, budget and personal preference.

There are four layers of protection to consider: common sense—removing keys and locking doors; visible and audible devices—steering wheel locks or alarms; immobilizing devises—cut-off switches and fuel disablers; and tracking devices that give police the location of a stolen vehicle.

The NICB vehicle theft rate is the number of vehicle thefts reported per 100,000 in population. MSAs are established by the U.S. Census Bureau and represent not only cities but include their adjacent metropolitan regions.

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