Study: Phoenix area tops in U.S. for auto theft; Miami, Detroit follow

Tuesday, April 10th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ The Phoenix area has become the nation's hot spot for stolen vehicles, overtaking Miami and Detroit as border and port cities remain popular haunts for auto thieves, an insurance industry group said.

About two-thirds of the top 25 metropolitan areas in rates of vehicle theft last year were at or near U.S. borders, reflecting a thriving international trade for pilfered autos, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said.

Citing FBI figures for metropolitan statistical areas, the nonprofit NICB found that the Phoenix area had 979 reported auto thefts in 2000 for every 100,000 of its residents. Miami and Detroit _ holders of the top two spots last year _ slipped one place apiece.

Metropolitan areas rounding out the top 10 were Jersey City, N.J.; Tacoma, Wash.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Fresno, Calif.; Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.; Jackson, Miss.; and Flint, Mich.

Tacoma and Flint each vaulted 11 spots, while Tucson, Ariz., leaped 21 places to No. 12 as the biggest mover in the top 25. New Orleans dropped 15 spots to close out the top 25.

``If your city appears toward the top of our list, you need to be extra careful and take steps to protect your vehicle from theft,'' said Robert Bryant, president and chief executive of NICB since late 1999, when he retired from the FBI's No. 2 post.

While crediting law enforcers and increased use of anti-theft devices in dropping stolen vehicles cases in recent years, Bryant said auto theft remains the nation's top property crime.

Nationwide, a vehicle is stolen every 25 seconds in what has become a $7.5 billion illegal business, according to the Insurance Information Institute, a trade organization.

Of about 1.1 million vehicles stolen nationwide each year, more than 30 percent are never recovered, with an estimated 200,000 smuggled yearly out of the country, the NICB said.

Newer models are more likely to be shipped abroad, while older models mainly are taken for their parts, Bryant said.

International trafficking of stolen vehicles has drawn federal crackdowns.

Just last week in Detroit, U.S. investigators announced indictments against six men _ two of them arrested in Panama _ suspected of conspiring to steal cars around Toronto, altering identification numbers and getting false paperwork before selling them in the Detroit area.

That sting, which targeted luxury vehicles, was conducted from 1998 until March 14 of this year. Authorities said 36 seized cars sold in the Detroit area were worth a total of about $1 million. In Canada, 127 vehicles were seized last week, and 43 people were charged.

Bent on fighting insurance fraud, the NICB each year also combines theft reports for all years of a particular make and model to determine those stolen most. A similar annual list issued by Chicago-based CCC Information Services Inc. lists the most-stolen vehicles by model year.

Thieves' tastes for stolen vehicles vary widely among different regions. American vehicles were more popular in the Midwest, while Japanese brands dominated the East and West coasts.