Stolen cars up 39% so far this year

The lockdown kicked off a rise in vehicle thefts in LA; it's showing no signs of stopping

car thefts graphic


The rash of car thefts that began to sweep across the city of Los Angeles as soon as the lockdown began last March is not slowing down in 2021. 


During the first two months of the year, the number of vehicle thefts totaled 3,698, a 39% spike over the same period last year, according to publicly available data from the Los Angeles Police Department


Reports of car theft have bounced between 13,000 to 19,000 over the past decade. But beginning last March, shortly after the stay-at-home orders were issued for COVID-19, the numbers began to shoot up. Last year ended with the highest total– at 21,313 – since the LAPD began making its data public in 2010. 


Vehicle theft reports, Jan.-Feb., 2021 vs. 2020


Chart: stolen cars Jan-Feb 2021


There may be a number of factors driving the increase. Last March, Los Angeles suspended many parking regulations as residents were stuck at home. That led to cars being left unattended on the street, sometimes for days at a time, which offered ready access to thieves. But the city reinstated its parking rules last October, and yet the number of stolen vehicle reports remained high above 2019 levels. 


In January, there were two incidents of multiple cars stolen from the same block on the same day. Five vehicles were swiped from the same North Hollywood block on Jan. 8. Then, on Jan. 31, five cars were stolen from a Pico Union parking lot.


Capt. Paul Vernon, who runs the LAPD’s Compstat division, said that measures such as curtailing cash bail, part of an effort to reduce overcrowding in jails during the pandemic, had made it easier for repeat offenders. He said that during a four week period last spring, two people were arrested three times for car theft, and 16 people were arrested at least twice. 


In the past, a second arrest for the same crime would have led to a bail set at a high level. “That greatly limited persistent offenders from reoffending,” said Vernon. 


The jump in stolen vehicles came amid a drop for overall crime in 2020. Last year, the stolen vehicle accounted for 11% of all crime in the city. In 2019, stolen cars represented only 7.3% of all crime.  


Boyle Heights and Van Nuys both had 142 stolen vehicle reports during January and February, more than any other neighborhood. Downtown was next, with 140 cases, followed by Westlake, Koreatown, and San Pedro, which saw 106, 98 and 82 car thefts in the same period, respectively. 


How we did it: We examined publicly available LAPD data on reported crimes in the city of Los Angeles, and reported crimes from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. For neighborhood boundaries, we rely on the borders defined by the Los Angeles Times. Learn more about our data here.


LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available.


The LAPD periodically updates past crime reports with new information, leading the department to recategorize past reports. Additionally, revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database. But, we will keep monitoring hate crimes in the City of Los Angeles.


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