Car Thefts Drop, Other Thefts Rise in 2019

Partial crime statistics for 2019, released recently by the police department, show a mixed bag for South Pasadena – with vehicle thefts declining but thefts of various other sorts on the rise compared to the previous year.

Det. Richard Lee, the SPPD’s crime statistician and crime prevention officer, told the Review this week that data for most “Part 1 crimes,” such as robberies, burglaries, arsons and rapes, were still being reviewed by command staff and were expected to be released in the next week or so.

However, numbers for vehicles thefts, as well as some stats for other kinds of thefts, were released in the department’s monthly “Neighborhood Watch Newsletter,” and were detailed a bit further by Lee in an interview with the Review.

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Significantly, the department reported a 32 percent decrease in stolen vehicles in the city – with 40 taken in 2019 compared to 59 in 2018.

That marked a reverse from a three-year trend between 2016 and 2018 in which vehicle thefts rose from year to year in the city, the department said.

One vehicle-theft trend did continue in 2019, however. According to Lee, for the 18th consecutive year, Hondas were the most stolen kinds of vehicles in the city.

Of the 40 vehicles reported stolen in the city in 2019, Hondas made up 32 percent, followed by Chevrolets at 20 percent, Fords at 10 percent, Nissans at 8 percent, Hyundais at 7 percent and Toyotas and Cadillacs at 5 percent each.

The SPPD released just percentage figures, rounded to the nearest whole number, rather than specific numbers for each individual car make.

 Within those theft stats by make of car, the department said the most stolen models in 2019 were the Honda Civic, Honda Accord, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Tucson and Cadillac Escalade.

The department said that vehicles parked on the street accounted for more than 65 percent of the car thefts, followed by vehicles parked in parking lots, carports or garages and driveways.

All but six of the 40 vehicles stolen in the city last year were recovered, the numbers show.

“Hondas have been big in our city for 18 years,’’ Lee said. “It’s funny, in our neighboring city, Pasadena, Toyotas have led the way (in thefts). However, Lee did not know the most recent Pasadena stats.

 Why Hondas? Hard to tell, Lee said.

“It used to be their parts were interchangeable — you could put parts from a ’90 Honda into a ’91,’’ he said.

But now, he said, that’s not necessarily the case. What’s more, most of the time thieves don’t strip stolen cars for parts.

“Most of them (the cars) have not been stripped,’’ Lee said. “They (police) just find them later on – probably they were just used for joy-riding purposes.”

Lee’s advice to thwart thieves came down to basic common sense: “Lock your car, of course, but the biggest thing is, don’t leave the keys in the car.’’

While vehicle thefts were down, total thefts were up 21 percent in the city in 2019 compared to 2018 — driven, Lee said, by an increase in shoplifting and in vehicle burglaries (the latter being classified as different crime than vehicle theft, in which the whole car is swiped).

Catalytic converters, license plates and car batteries were the most popular auto parts stolen in 2019 in the city, Lee said.

That reflects a trend detailed in the Review in October, when Lee reported “half a dozen” catalytic-converter thefts in the previous three months. Thieves target the emissions-control devices for precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium.

“That’s a high number for our small city,’’ Lee said at the time regarding the number of catalytic-converter thefts.

He also said such thefts are difficult to prevent, with SUVs being particularly targeted.

“(SUVs) are higher off the ground and easy to access, as opposed to a Porsche or Ferrari, where ground clearance is only a few inches,” Lee said.

Bicycle thefts, “porch piracy” thefts of packages and thefts from unlocked vehicles also continued to be high in 2019, the department said.

“Most thefts are a crime of opportunity and can be prevented,’’ the department warned residents in the January newsletter. “An unlocked bicycle, parcel package on the front porch or an unlocked vehicle are all invitations for a theft.

More mundane items are often targeted in vehicle burglaries, too.

“Many victims left wallets and other valuables in their vehicles,’’ the department’s newsletter said.

And such heists can have spinoff effects, with the department reporting, “Once the thief made entry into the car and took the wallet, the thief would immediately use the victim’s credit card to make unauthorized purchases.’’

Another noteworthy development in local 2019 crime stats, Lee said, was burglaries to homes under construction. He reported “about half a dozen,” without having more specific numbers.

Burglars, he said, target such sites for building materials, particularly copper pipes, which are expensive, recyclable and often exposed during early phases of construction projects or remodels.

Construction sites are also easy targets because, after work hours, they are often unattended, and sometimes are unprotected by fences, alarms or security cameras and warning signs.

When construction projects are nearer completion, the department said, burglars will target appliances, light fixtures and indoor plumbing fixtures.

Nationwide, the SPPD said, an estimated $1 billion-plus in construction tools and materials are stolen from construction sites each year.

When the SPPD releases its more detailed crime statistics in the coming days, the Review will have a full report.