School closures, shuttered businesses, record unemployment and government stay-at-home declarations have resulted in an unprecedented dip in car usage — one that has been accompanied, perhaps surprisingly, by a spike in motor vehicle thefts.
“Yes, they are on the rise, definitely,” said Detective Richard Lee of the South Pasadena Police Department, who added that the increase will be a subject covered in the city’s August newsletter.
By the end of July, the city had already surpassed the total of theft reports for all of 2019, according to Lee, who stated that 58 motor vehicles had been pilfered in South Pasadena through the end of July, compared with 40 for all of 2019.
“It’s not just us, it’s the entire San Gabriel Valley,” Lee said. “I have spoken to analysts at other departments and they all say the same thing.”
One reason for the increase could be the “zero bail” policy that was adopted in Los Angeles County on March 27 in an effort to slow the transmission of the coronavirus in jails. The policy removed bail requirements for misdemeanors and low-level felonies.
“People have been caught driving a stolen vehicle and, basically, it’s just a cite and release,” Lee said. “Like getting a ticket.”
Some law enforcement officials believe the pandemic has resulted in expanded inventories for car thieves, as fewer people are leaving their homes to go to work — so the vehicles spend less time in relatively secure parking facilities. Lee said South Pasadena also has a large number of apartment buildings and multi-unit dwellings, which often cause cars to overflow out of garages and onto city streets.
South Pasadena’s quick access to freeways is also problematic, allowing a rapid getaway for car thieves. High unemployment has also left many looking for alternative sources of income, legal or not.
Lee said many preventive measures simply involve common sense. He indicated that some victims of auto theft have left their cars running while stepping away to perform errands, only to return to an empty parking space. Some have also left an extra key in the console or glove box, thus offering instant access to thieves. He encouraged residents to always keep their cars locked, keep valuables out of plain sight, park in a garage or a well-lighted area and consider using the once popular steering-wheel lock.
“They are still very much a deterrent,” Lee said. “A thief might see one of those and try to find a car that is easier to steal.”
Locally, Hondas seem to be frequently targeted, Lee said, mentioning Civics and CRVs as models that are swiped the most. Pickup trucks and vans are growing in popularity among thieves, but Lee said electric cars are rarely taken and hybrids only occasionally.
He said drivers should take a photo of their car and license plate to keep on their cell-phone, in case they become a victim.
“Most people do not know their license plate number, and that can really help in recovering a stolen car,” Lee said.