U.S. vehicle thefts dropped to the lowest since 1967, falling for a seventh straight year as more cars were equipped with security devices and police tactics helped deter thieves, an insurance industry group said.
Thefts probably declined 7.2 percent last year from 794,616 in 2009, according to preliminary figures released today by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The New York City region, Dallas, Los Angeles, Detroit and Miami were among 257 urban areas reporting fewer thefts, the non-profit trade group said, citing FBI data.
Insurers including Allstate Corp. (ALL) and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. offer discounts to customers who use anti-theft devices. In addition to built-in security features, NICB recommends manufacturer-installed products such as LoJack Corp. tracking devices and Ravelco ignition disablers.
"Technology both on the manufacturing end and what comes out of the automakers is a lot better than it was," Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for Des Plaines, Illinois-based NICB, said in an interview. "Even on the baseline vehicle today, it's harder to steal than in 2000."
Auto thefts in the New York City area, including northern New Jersey and Long Island, fell 1.9 percent to 29,189. The region had the 198th-highest-rate of 366 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, compared with 223rd in 2009. State College, Pennsylvania, had the lowest rate for the second straight year with 46 thefts, or 30 per 100,000 people.
Car thefts in Dallas declined 14.5 percent in 2010 to 21,963, or 345 thefts per 100,000 people, the NICB said. Police use "bait programs" in which officers leave cars unlocked, often with the keys still in the ignition, to tempt would-be thieves. The tactic has helped reduce thefts, said Sgt. Robert Benitez of the Dallas Police Department.
Fresno, California -- one of eight regions in the state among the top 10 places for car snatching -- had the highest rate of theft. The Fresno area, in central California, had 7,559 thefts, or 812 per 100,000 people, the NICB said.
Law-enforcement efforts are hobbled by insufficient capacity at the county jail resulting from staff shortages, said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.
"Individuals we arrest for the crime of auto theft are being booked into jail and released, generally the same day," he said in an interview. "It is not uncommon for us to arrest the same person for auto theft multiple times in one week."
Sgt. Eddie Perez of California's Delano Police Department, in the Southern California region with the third-highest rate of car thefts, said more automobile owners should take basic precautions.
"The simplest, the easiest and the most cost-effective is really just to lock the thing," Scafidi said. "I know that sounds kind of elementary, but there are lots of vehicles that are stolen every year because people make it easy on the thief."