In 2020, the city of Los Angeles recorded 21,313 stolen vehicles. That was an increase of more than 5,500 from the previous year, and the highest total since at least 2010.
This year, the city has already surpassed that number. From Jan.1-Nov. 29, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data, 21,709 cars had gone missing.
Los Angeles annual car theft totals, 2015-2021
The figure is even more dramatic when compared with the time before the coronavirus pandemic. According to LAPD Compstat data, from January to November 2019, approximately 14,150 cars were stolen. The tally in the same period this year represents an increase of almost 53%.
The situation, which for months has been at epidemic levels, continues to worsen. Starting Oct. 3, more than 500 vehicles went missing each week for six consecutive weeks. Only three other times since 2010—all in consecutive weeks starting in June 2020—had Los Angeles recorded more than 500 stolen cars in a one-week period.
Weekly car theft totals in Los Angeles, July 4-Nov. 27
Spike followed COVID
Car thefts in Los Angeles started to increase almost immediately after COVID-19 arrived, as the closure of most businesses and the easing of parking restrictions meant that many vehicles were sitting on the streets for days at a time. Thefts peaked in the summer, then began to fall as the economy started to reopen and more people began driving.
A new surge, according to LAPD data, began this August, and there have now been more than 2,000 vehicles stolen each month for four consecutive months. The only other times in the past decade that plateau was reached were in June and July of 2020.
The situation has garnered the attention of LAPD brass, and Chief Michel Moore has discussed the matter multiple times at the weekly meeting of the civilian Los Angeles Police Commission. In past sessions Moore said that some vehicles were taken after people left key fobs in cup holders, making life easy for opportunistic thieves. At another meeting, Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala said that food delivery drivers sometimes leave the engine running while dropping off a meal.
At the Nov. 23 commission meeting, Moore said that GMCs and Hyundais from the late 1990s, and Hondas from the early 2000s, are hot targets for thieves.
“We have found that individuals stealing these have recognized that ignition systems on those three makes are easily defeated with what’s known as a shaved key or a shank,” Moore said. “We’re seeing repeated arrests of individuals that are in a similar-type vehicle.”
Transportation and catalytic converters
In California in 2020, the most frequently stolen vehicle was the 2000 Honda Civic, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s annual “Hot Wheels” report. Two other circa-2000 Hondas ranked in the top five, and the 2001 GMC full-size pick-up truck was the seventh-most frequently swiped vehicle in the state.
LAPD officials have said that many vehicles are recovered a few days after they go missing, sometimes in the same neighborhood, indicating that they are often being used for transportation, rather than being disassembled and sold for parts.
However, Moore did note on Nov. 23 that some cars, once recovered, are missing their catalytic converter. The devices that reduce harmful emissions contain precious metals that can be sold to unscrupulous repair shops; a victim whose converter has been taken can pay thousands of dollars for a replacement.
From 2016-2020, Boyle Heights was the Los Angeles neighborhood that recorded the highest number of car thefts. This year, however, thieves are striking most frequently in Downtown, where 876 vehicles went missing from Jan.1-Nov. 29.
Los Angeles neighborhoods with the most stolen vehicles in 2021
To combat vehicle theft, the NICB recommends steps including parking in well-lit areas, having a vehicle alarm system or theft-deterrent decals, and installing either an immobilizing device in case someone tries to bypass your ignition system, or a tracking device that emits a signal when a car is stolen.
How we did it: We examined publicly available vehicle theft data from the Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1, 2010-Nov. 29, 2021. We also looked at LAPD Compstat data. 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. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.
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