Car Theft Is Down, Hopes Are Up

Cars parked outside of De Leo’s Auto Body & Services Inc. in Cambridgeport. Nov. 11, 2017. Cambridgeport had the highest number of reported auto thefts in 2016. Photo by Cara Zimmerman/BU News Service

By Cara Zimmerman
BU News Service

CAMBRIDGE — Car owners can park with peace of mind, mostly. Auto theft is down 22 percent in Cambridge over the last five years, according to police.

Only 80 cases of car theft were reported in 2017, an 18 percent decrease since 2016, according to the October 2017 Cambridge Police Department Crime Analysis Unit.

In the 1970s there were an estimated 3,000 auto theft cases reported each year. After the closing of chop shops, spaces used to sell stolen car parts, numbers dropped by the thousands over the next decade, according to the 2016 Annual Crime Report.

Today’s lower auto theft cases can be attributed to better technology and legislation in the eighties which allowed for investigations into chop shops, according to former detective for the Cambridge Police Bill Phillips. East Cambridge and Cambridgeport still serve as popular spots for auto theft though Phillips said.

Now serving as an aid to the commissioner, Phillips said advances in technology have led to a continual decrease in auto theft over five years. In the past, all you needed was a screwdriver to smash the steering column, said Phillips.

Collaboration between the local forces, the state, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau has helped authorities to crack down on auto theft issues, Phillips said. But the areas where auto theft is most prevalent today have not changed since his time investigating auto theft in the ’80s and ’90s.

“East Cambridge has always been a busier end of the city for auto theft and I’m not sure why,” Phillips said. “With a high concentration of vehicles, Cambridgeport has also been a high area. Maybe it’s because you have the mall in East Cambridge and universities encompassing Cambridgeport.”

Phillips said older car model parts are easier to take and sell. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s 2016 Hot Wheels Report, the top stolen vehicle in the United States is the Honda Accord 1997 model. In 2016, 50,427 of these cars were stolen across the country.

“We have LoJack, which notifies the police as soon as a vehicle is stolen and keys that have a chip in them,” Phillips said. “A lot of technology went into the newer car models to make theft more difficult.”

The local decline in auto theft is part of a nationwide trend said Jeremy Warnick, director of communications at the Cambridge Police Department. In the past decade, the number of stolen cars has gone from 1.2 million to under 500,000.

“If you look at those ’90s cars for example those parts are so interchangeable,” Warnick said.

Prior to his work with the Cambridge Police, Warnick worked at LoJack in Canton, where he saw trends, like the preference for high-end vehicles increase.

Recovery rates are as low as 60 percent, Warnick said. Since Cambridge is a small city, stolen cars are likely to leave city lines, thereby falling under different jurisdiction.

Warnick said it finally comes down to people remembering to follow basic safety precautions.

“There will always be a specialized group of people that will continue to flourish in auto theft,” said Warnick. “That’s why people doing the basic things like locking their doors [and] rolling up their windows are so important. You never know who may be in the area looking for a quick hit.”

Members in the community can visit the Cambridge Police Department website for a list of ways to prevent auto theft.

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