(NewsNation Now) — For many, a car is among the largest financial investments they’ll ever make, but car owners in the U.S. are increasingly at risk of losing their investment after a year that saw the most vehicle thefts in more than a decade.
Auto thefts saw a dramatic increase in 2020 versus 2019, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That’s in part because of the pandemic and law enforcement realignment, but the economic downturn, depleted social and schooling programs and owner complacency are also to blame, David Glawe, president and CEO of the NICB said in a news release.
“While people are inside stores spending several hours browsing and waiting in lines, criminals blend into crowded parking lots scanning for vehicles that have belongings or key fobs left inside,” Glawe said in the release. “Once they find one, if not already unlocked, it takes only 5 to 10 seconds to break a window, grab items and flee the scene without anyone even noticing.”
According to the FBI, thieves stole more than 810,000 vehicles in 2020.
California led states in total thefts in 2020 with 187,094. Texas followed with 93,521, and Florida with 44,940. Those three states alone accounted for 37% of all thefts nationally, according to the NICB.
Missouri reported 27,905 stolen vehicles in 2020, with Kansas having 9,478. Both states saw slight increases year-to-year.
Though thefts in 2020 jumped up significantly nationally, some realized declines in total thefts, according to the NICB.
Those areas include Puerto Rico, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Nevada, Maryland, New Mexico, Alaska, New Jersey and West Virginia.
Still, New Jersey has experienced a substantial increase in thefts from last year alone, state police officer Cory Rodriguez said.
“Car theft in 2021 is up over 21% year-to-date for total thefts and about 44% for high-end vehicles,” Rodriguez said.
One New Jersey resident, who asked not to be identified, said thieves came two weeks ago, just as he had stepped into the backyard.
“It was broad daylight, middle of the afternoon, my daughter had just come from across the street about a minute earlier…” the resident said. “It’s starting to hit home, we’re starting to fear for our safety with this type of invasion taking place … on a daily basis.”
Some New Jersey police have cited new laws that won’t allow them to chase and apprehend stolen vehicles and bail laws as contributors to the uptick in vehicle thefts.
“Where you are not incarcerating people who should be incarcerated, and you are letting them back out on the street to revictimize, that’s where the system has failed law enforcement and the good community here in new jersey,” said Andrew Kudrick Jr., chief of police in Howell, New Jersey.
Evan Wexler agrees. Criminals stole his Lamborghini and came back 19 times until he decided to confront them with a semi-automatic weapon.
“Since that happened, I haven’t had somebody coming in eight weeks now,” Wexler said, “At the end of the day, this is grand larceny, but the guys when they get caught, they get a slap on the wrist. Bail reform is probably our biggest problem right now.”
To prevent holiday theft, the NICB recommends that car owners take the following precautions:
- Roll up your windows, lock your doors and take the keys or fob with you
- Park in well-lit areas and, when possible, with security personnel and camera surveillance.
- Keep shopping bags, cellphones, purses and other personal property out of sight
- Don’t be distracted – have your keys ready to enter your car and be aware of your surroundings.
- Consider an immobilizing or tracking device for your vehicle.
- If confronted by a suspect, remain calm and cooperate. Be a good witness and call 911 when you can.