Car thefts are rising sharply across the US during the pandemic, police say
Fewer Americans are driving right now — and that means more cars are sitting idle in driveways and parking garages.
And while we’re tucked away in our homes, more of them are being stolen.
Police in some major cities across the US are reporting upticks in car thefts since the start of the pandemic in mid-March, even while many other crimes have dipped in those same cities.
New York Police Department data shows that reports of car thefts jumped 53% in the last 28 days — from 303 over the same period in 2019 to 464 during the pandemic. Reports of other crimes, including rape and robbery, dropped during this time.
In Seattle, police said the department received 300 auto theft reports in the last month, a 24% spike from the same time last year.
CNN reached out to the NYPD and Seattle Police Department for comment on the disparity and is waiting to hear back.
And while overall crime in Los Angeles is down, car thefts are up: The Los Angeles Police Department received 1,390 reports of stolen cars from March 15 to April 11 — an 11.3% jump from just one month earlier, when 1,249 cars were stolen.
The conditions of a pandemic benefit would-be car thieves: People are obeying stay-at-home orders and only driving when necessary. That strategy helps prevent the coronavirus from spreading, but it makes it more difficult for police, who can’t search for or recover cars until they’ve been reported missing.
“With the stay home order, people aren’t driving their cars and don’t realize they’ve been stolen,” Seattle Police auto theft unit Lt. Tom Yoon said in a statement.
It happened just this month, when Seattle investigators returned a stolen car to a man who didn’t know that it was taken and hadn’t reported it, the department said.
Meanwhile, some cities are reporting the opposite trend: Chicago police reported a 24% decrease in car thefts since mid-March, and Dallas police reported a similar drop of 19.6% from March to April.
It’s not clear why the pandemic is benefiting criminals in some cities more than others. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall said officers haven’t stopped policing the city, and though they’re taking extra safety precautions, they won’t let criminals off the hook during the pandemic.
“For any criminal taking this opportunity to believe that you will be successful committing crimes in this city, I have a message for you: We’re coming for you. We’re looking for you. We are waiting on you,” Hall said in a video statement.