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Crimes Against Property - Motor Vehicle Theft

car thieves cities cars

The FBI's Crime in the United States, 2002 defines motor vehicle theft as "the theft, or attempted theft of a motor vehicle. This offense includes the stealing of automobiles, trucks, buses, motorcycles, motor scooters, snowmobiles, etc." Crime in the United States, 2002 also reveals that every 25.3 seconds a motor vehicle was stolen in the United States in 2002. One in three thefts was carried out by a juvenile. Thieves prefer dark areas or unattended parking areas where no witnesses are near. About one-half of vehicles stolen were unlocked, but it takes an accomplished car thief only seconds to open most locked cars. Younger thieves often steal a car for a few hours of joyriding or to travel short distances. Other motives of car thieves include longer transportation needs or the desire to make a profit by selling the car for its parts.

Some thieves sell cars to illegal theft rings whose members falsify vehicle identification numbers and title documents then resell them. Professional car thieves who make a living from their thievery are usually connected with "chop shops," or strip shops where stolen cars are disassembled and the parts are sold. Other professional car thieves are part of export rings. Cars are stolen and sent to foreign countries where the demand for U.S.-made cars is strong. Owning an illegally exported car has become a status symbol for many individuals in several Eastern European countries.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) released a study in June 2003 listing the U.S. cities with the highest motor vehicle theft rates (called "hot" cities). A majority of the cities were close to U.S. borders with Mexico or Canada and major seaports. Phoenix, Arizona, was the number one hot spot followed by several cities in central California—Fresno, Modesto, Stockton, and Sacramento. Port cities in the hottest top ten locations included Oakland, California; Seattle and Tacoma, Washington; and Miami, Florida.

Export of stolen vehicles steadily increased in the first part of the twenty-first century. To combat this trend, the FBI along with the U.S. Customs Office, the NICB, several insurance companies, and state and local law enforcement agencies have joined together to form the North American Export Committee (NAEC). The NAEC encourages x-ray scanning of cargo containers, although by 2003 scanners were used at only a few locations. According to the NICB, illegal exporters simply avoided ports using scanners.

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