One morning last October, Downtown resident Melynda Choothesa walked out to the car she had parked on the street the night before. A sense of dread arose as she saw the shattered glass of her passenger window.
Her registration and insurance cards were missing from the glove box, and there were scratches on the door. When she looked in the hatchback of her Fiat 500e, she realized that her bag of dry cleaning had also been stolen.
“It wasn’t even visible. It was in the trunk space,” said Choothesa. “The whole stash-it-and-keep-it thing isn’t even true anymore.
Making matters worse, it was the second time in a year that her car had been broken into.
“Both times it was traumatic, violating and inconvenient,” said Choothesa. “I had to pay $300 or $400 each time and my insurance didn’t even cover it.”
Choothesa’s experience is not uncommon in Los Angeles. That October there were 2,889 reports of burglary and theft from a vehicle (BTFV) in the city, according to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data. That was the highest monthly count since December 2018.
The situation soon grew even worse. In December, there were 3,135 vehicle break-ins, and the figure was 3,141 in January. The monthly count had not surpassed 3,000 in the previous 12 years.
In total, there were 32,153 car break-ins in the city last year, according to police data. That was the highest annual total since 2018 (the number only includes reports made to the LAPD; in numerous instances windows are repaired but vehicle owners never contact police).
An examination of police data reveals that vehicle break-ins typically rise in December, when holiday shopping is in full swing and cars in mall parking lots and other locations are filled with gifts and merchandise that make tempting targets for thieves. The number of incidents usually remains elevated in January, before beginning to fall.
Indeed, vehicle break-ins dropped by 13.4% in February from one month prior, and fell even further in March, to 2,531 incidents. However, both counts are higher than in the same month last year.
Many people, more problems
With 959 incidents in the first three months of 2023, Downtown has experienced more vehicle break-ins than any other neighborhood in the city. That is not a surprise, as the dense area, with its hundreds of thousands of residents, daily workers and evening visitors, has more vehicle traffic and cars parked on the street than other communities.
The LAPD has long urged Downtowners and others to be vigilant against break-ins, with a “Lock It, Hide It, Keep It” campaign on posters and elsewhere. Police and security officials have warned that almost any visible object in a vehicle can be a lure for thieves, even something as innocuous as a pile of clothes or a phone charging cord.
Angelenos, of course, are not the only people victimized—tourists can be targeted. This was the case last August, when car break-ins increased in Griffith Park, home to the Observatory, the Hollywood sign and the L.A. Zoo. There were numerous break-ins of rental cars.
“Car thieves target property left in plain sight such as luggage, purses, electronics, laptops, tablets, expensive sunglasses, even passports,” said LAPD Capt. Gary Walters during a press conference last August.
Police have warned that in some cases, the thefts are perpetrated by organized rings, with groups of criminals scoping out vehicles with valuables inside, and then breaking into several cars in a short period, before speeding off. LAPD Detective Michael Ventura said that organized theft rings from Northern California have been active in Los Angeles recently.
Members of one such crime group were arrested in January. The participants were particularly active in Downtown, said Sgt. Joshua Medina during a January press conference. He added that during the month, the LAPD utilized 13 undercover details, which resulted in 19 felony arrests.
“They are career criminals. They have this to a science,” Medina said during the press conference. “Within 30 seconds, they are out the door and onto the streets with your property.”
At the press conference, LAPD Capt. Elaine Morales said most of these thefts occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m.
How we did it: We examined LAPD publicly available crime data from Jan. 1, 2010–March 31, 2023. 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. 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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