Auto thefts drifting, but rank moves up

The Bay Area has stolen the No. 5 spot on the list of the nation’s most popular destinations for car thieves and is lagging behind the rest of the country in reducing auto thefts, according to a report released Thursday.

The region, which includes San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, ranked No. 5 of 361 metropolitan areas named on the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2007 list of stolen vehicles per 100,000 residents. The region ranked No. 12 on the list last year and No. 11 in 2005.

Despite the ominous ranking, car thefts have gone down in the Bay Area each year since 2005. There were 34,996 stolen vehicles in the region in 2007, down from 37,305 in 2006, a dip of 6.2 percent.

Nationwide, however, car thefts decreased by 7.4 percent from 2006 to 2007,according to the crime bureau, which pulls statistics from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center.

A major factor in the Bay Area’s high rate is its proximity to ports, crime bureau spokesman Frank Scafidi said. Typically, thieves aiming to unload stolen cars will look to deliver them onto container ships if they are unable to drive them across a foreign border, he said.

“A lot of vehicles, when they’re stolen, especially the nice, expensive rides, those are the ones that typically get shipped to foreign countries,” Scafidi said.

Despite the region’s drop in auto thefts last year, instances of stolen cars and other goods occur more often as the economy worsens, South San Francisco police Sgt. Joni Lee said. There have already been 29 stolen cars in South San Francisco this year after 32 were stolen all of last year, Lee said.

The best advice for avoiding a stolen car is to lock its doors, not keep valuable items in plain view and not keep cars running while unoccupied, police said. Thieves are still using traditional methods, Scafidi said. They use tools such as the Slim Jim, a weighted item to pop the lock or simply smash the car window.

“If someone wants your car bad enough, they obviously will get it no matter what [preventive] measures you put there,” San Francisco police Sgt. Wilfred Williams said.

The Modesto area was first on the bureau’s list, followed by Las Vegas, which topped last year’s rankings. The San Diego area was third and Stockton ranked fourth.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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