NICB’s 2018 Hot Spots Vehicle Theft Report

After adopting effective programs to reduce the vehicle theft problem in the Albuquerque, N.M. metropolitan statistical area (MSA), including the creation of a statewide Auto Theft Prevention Authority, much success has been achieved. Vehicle thefts in the Albuquerque MSA in 2018 were down more than 28 percent from 2016. However, the Albuquerque MSA continued to have the nation’s highest per capita rate of vehicle theft in 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) latest Hot Spots report.

Hot Spots examines vehicle theft data obtained from the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for each of the nation’s MSAs. MSAs are designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and often include areas much larger than the cities for which they are named. For example, the Albuquerque, N.M. MSA includes all thefts within the entire county of Bernalillo, not just the city of Albuquerque.

As a population-based survey, an area with a much smaller population and a moderate number of thefts can—and often does—have a higher theft rate than an area with a much more significant vehicle theft problem and a larger population to absorb it. Which is how St. Joseph, with 674 thefts, places 10th while Los Angeles, with 53,928 thefts, places 38th. For 2018, the 10 MSAs with the highest vehicle theft rates were: (thefts in parentheses)

2018 Hot Spots Top 10
2018 Ranking, 2017 Ranking
1. Albuquerque, N.M. (7,146) 1 (9,839)
2. Anchorage, Alaska (3,087) 2 (3,217)
3. Bakersfield, Calif. (6,748) 6 (6,490)
4. Pueblo, Colo. (1,175) 3 (1,322)
5. Modesto, Calif. (3,428) 7 (3,839)
6. Redding, Calif. (1,037) 4 (1,339)
7. Stockton-Lodi, Calif. (4,287) 8 (4,532)
8. Wichita, Kan. (3,547) 27 (3,127)
9. Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif. (2,404) 26 (2,174)
10. St. Joseph, Mo. (674) 5 (938)

Each year the FBI releases preliminary Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data for the previous year’s January—June time frame. When the preliminary 2018 crime data was released earlier this year, it showed that vehicle theft was down nationally by 3.3 percent. That decrease is reflected in today’s Hot Spots report. If that decrease holds when the final UCR 2018 crime data is published in the fall, then it will resume the long-term downward trend we have seen in vehicle theft that began in 2004. The historic peak year for vehicle theft was 1991, with 1,661,738 reported thefts. In 2017, the total was 773,139. That is a 53 percent reduction since 1991.

Vehicle manufacturers, law enforcement and legislatures have been responsive to the crime of vehicle theft over the years, and the results are evident. Vehicle owners must guard against complacency and remember to heed simple tips to safeguard their vehicles.

NICB recommends that drivers follow our four “layers of protection” to guard against vehicle theft:

Common Sense — the common sense approach to protection is the easiest and most cost-effective way to thwart would-be thieves. You should always:

Remove your keys from the ignition
Lock your doors /close your windows
Park in a well-lit area Warning Device — the second layer of protection is a visible or audible device which alerts thieves that your vehicle is protected. Popular devices include:

Audible alarms
Steering column collars
Steering wheel/brake pedal lock
Brake locks
Wheel locks
Theft deterrent decals
Identification markers in or on vehicle
VIN etching
Micro dot marking

Immobilizing Device — the third layer of protection is a device which prevents thieves from bypassing your ignition and hot-wiring the vehicle. Some electronic devices have computer chips in ignition keys. Other devices inhibit the flow of electricity or fuel to the engine until a hidden switch or button is activated. Some examples are:

Smart keys
Fuse cut-offs
Kill switches
Starter, ignition, and fuel pump disablers
Wireless ignition authentication
Tracking Device — the final layer of protection is a tracking device which emits a signal to police or a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ “telematics” which combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner and the vehicle can be tracked via computer.

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National Insurance Crime Bureau

Headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is the nation's leading not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, learning and development, government affairs and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,300 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $496 billion in insurance premiums in 2018, or more than 81 percent of the nation's property-casualty insurance. That includes more than 92 percent ($254 billion) of the nation's personal auto insurance. To learn more visit

Frank Scafidi