About those lists of cities, you know, the most miserable, most unlivable, etc., there's good news-bad news for Modesto in one measure that resonates with all of us car theft.
The good news: We are no longer No. 1 in the nation. Bad news, according to California Highway Patrol Lt. Larry Chambers, the head of the Stanislaus auto theft task force, for the last official report (2011 data) we are No. 2 after Fresno. The 2012 rankings are not yet available.
Auto theft frequency Though there has been some improvement the almost 7,000 thefts in 2005 came down to about half that in 2011 the numbers are up for 2012. Most vehicles are found within a few days, stripped of tires, rims, engine parts and anything of value, and few are returned undamaged.
The what, when and where Rule of thumb: Any car can be stolen from anywhere but there are factors that increase the probability. Ten to 15-year-old vehicles, usually Hondas and Toyotas, are the most commonly stolen because they are easy to enter and start even without keys, and there is a greater demand for their parts.
Late model cars with key chips present a problem but even these are not immune from theft. Night-time theft of cars parked outside the owner's home is the most common scenario. Another common occurrence is the driver who just needed a minute, ran in to pick up the dry cleaning (or kids), left the door unlocked, the keys in, engine running. Ditto for the cold morning warm-up, while the driver sips the morning coffee. A friend of mine said, "always know where my keys are because I leave them in the ignition!"
Who steals and why It's no surprise that car thieves are linked to home burglaries and other nonviolent crimes. The combination of drug addiction, unemployment and poverty is the major reason California's Central Valley leads the nation in car theft. Many are repeaters cycling through the system with minimal jail space for nonviolent, nonsex offender criminals.
Asked how much time in jail for repeaters would lower theft rates, Chambers replied, "Probably a lot." Most thieves are local and many are well- known to police. But others are youths looking for a short joy ride, and others are part of highly organized gangs seeking expensive vehicles to sell out of town.
What can be done Car owners are not without protective measures. Rule one: Garage your car if you can, and never, but never leave your car unlocked or, even worse, with keys in and engine on. Not for a second.
The Club, a locked stick immobilizing the steering wheel, is probably the most effective and cheapest deterrent.
Police use bait cars, which trigger a central response if they move, steering the police to the car immediately. There are GPS-based commercial systems that can track a stolen vehicle when reported. But in the end a heightened awareness and some commonsense habits are the car owner's best protection.
With a little luck, maybe we can improve our ranking No. 3 anyone?
Allen is a semiretired Modesto physician and regular community columnist. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.