The American City Where Car Theft Is Soaring Fastest

Car companies have tried to thwart car thieves for decades. Among the first innovations was cars with locks on them. Later, devices were created that locked steering wheels. Still later, car companies added alarms.

Motor vehicle theft, one of the most serious offenses tracked by the FBI, is on the rise in the United States. These thefts totaled 810,400 nationwide in 2020, up 12% from the previous year and the most in over a decade.

Motor vehicle theft can be either the theft or attempted theft of a vehicle, such as a car or ATV. Some experts attribute the rising rates of vehicle theft to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to vehicles sitting unattended and unused for longer stretches than usual. The country’s rising rates of motor vehicle theft are being driven by surges in some major metropolitan areas.

Using data from the FBI’s 2020 Uniform Crime Report (UCR), 24/7 Wall St. identified the metro area where vehicle theft is rising fastest. Metro areas are ranked by the year-over-year change in the number of reported vehicle thefts per 100,000 people in 2020. Among the metro areas on the list, the vehicle theft rate climbed anywhere from 42 to 183 incidents per 100,000 people. The national motor vehicle theft rate climbed by 25 incidents per 100,000 people in 2020.

Vehicle theft (along with larceny and burglary) is one component of the overall property crime category. However, despite rising rates of vehicle theft, fewer than half of the metro areas on this list reported an increase in the overall property crime rate in 2020.

The place where car theft is rising fastest is Bakersfield, California. Here are the details:

  • Change in reported vehicle theft rate from 2019 to 2020: +183.0
  • Vehicle thefts reported in 2020: 7,537 (11th highest of 212 metros)
  • Vehicle thefts per 100K people in 2020: 839.4 (the highest of 212 metros)
  • One-year change in all property crime: −196.7 (81st lowest of 188 metros)
  • Property crimes per 100K people in 2020: 3,106.0 (16th highest of 198 metros)
  • Population: 900,202

To determine the metro area where the motor vehicle theft rate is rising fastest, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the change in motor vehicle thefts per 100,000 people from the FBI’s 2019 and 2020 UCRs. Crime rates were calculated using population figures provided by the FBI in those reports.

Limited data was available in the 2020 UCR for areas in Alabama, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Illinois, though metro areas in these states were not excluded from the analysis. Only metro areas for which the boundaries defined by the FBI match the boundaries as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau were considered. Because some state and local agencies changed reporting practices between 2019 and 2020, the figures are not comparable and the areas were excluded.

Population figures are five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey.

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