Last month, 2,394 vehicles were reported stolen in the city of Los Angeles. It is the highest monthly count since at least 2010.
It eclipses the previous recent high of 2,387 vehicles stolen in December 2021. In the entire 2010s, there were never more than 1,800 auto theft reports in a single month in the city. Yet that figure has been exceeded every month for more than three years.
The October count also marks the third time in the last four months that more than 2,300 vehicles went missing.
The rising numbers have the Los Angeles Police Department looking for answers.
“The gains that we’ve seen through most of the year, in regards to vehicle thefts, have nearly evaporated,” LAPD Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Police Commission at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Car thefts began rising in Los Angeles shortly after the onset of the pandemic. Initially the increase was attributed to opportunistic thieves taking vehicles that were parked on the street for weeks or longer. The situation was similar in many cities across the country.
Although most people have resumed pre-COVID driving habits, car thefts never decreased significantly. Last year there were 25,405 stolen vehicle reports in Los Angeles, the highest annual count in more than a decade. Through Oct. 31 this year, the count was 21,043 incidents.
The pace slowed earlier this year, and in April there were 1,853 thefts. But the current spike puts the city on the precipice of a new annual high.
The situation is even more stark when compared with the pre-pandemic period.
“Vehicle thefts have increased significantly in the last four years,” Moore told the Police Commission. “We are 68% higher in vehicle thefts today in Los Angeles than we were in 2019.”
Targeting Kias and Hyundais
According to the California Highway Patrol, last year 198,538 vehicles were stolen in the state. Approximately 53% were taken in Southern California (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties).
The most-frequently stolen vehicle in California last year was the 2015 Kia Optima, according to the CHP. Various Hondas and Hyundais were also popular with thieves, as were Chevrolet Silverados.
Thefts of Kias and Hyundais spiked in the summer of 2022 when social media videos revealed how to overpower those vehicles’ ignition systems. Moore said they continue to be frequently targeted in Los Angeles, and urged owners of those makes to take preventive measures, including using a steering-wheel lock to deter thieves.
A recent report from the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau found that more than 500,000 cars were stolen across the country in the first half of 2023. That includes 99,769 reports in California, which is down 2% from the same time last year.
“Vehicle thefts increased to near-record highs in the United States last year, and unfortunately, current trends indicate total thefts this year may surpass 2022,” NICB President and CEO David J. Glawe said last month. “With little deterrent to stop these criminal actors, law enforcement agencies and communities will continue to suffer.”
Downtown hit hard
The community recorded 1,305 car thefts from Jan. 1–Oct. 31. That is almost twice the total of Westlake, which ranked second, with 662 reports.
The situation in Downtown has worsened as the year has progressed. In 2019 the neighborhood frequently experienced fewer than 50 vehicle thefts each month. The count in each of the last four months was over 140, with a peak of 158 in October.
If there is a silver lining, it is that many victims get their vehicle back. According to the CHP report, 87.7% of the cars stolen in the state last year—or more than 172,000—were recovered.
That has often been the case in Los Angeles, too. In the past, Moore has stated that many stolen vehicles are found within a few days, and often not far from where they went missing.
He made the point again at the Police Commission meeting, when referring to Kias and Hyundais.
“Repeat offenders,” Moore stated, “target and steal those vehicles for transportation.”
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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