Jul 20, 2023 - Economy

Car thefts skyrocket in cities across the U.S.

Data: Council on Criminal Justice; Chart: Axios Visuals

Car thefts in dozens of cities across the U.S. have skyrocketed so far this year, according to a new report on crime.

Why it matters: Motor vehicle thefts are up by roughly 34% from the same period last year, underscoring how crime patterns have evolved as the country has emerged from the pandemic.

  • The mid-year data, released Thursday by the Council on Criminal Justice, also shows how online fads can help fuel real-world crime trends.
  • "It’s likely that much of the increase is the result of thefts of Kia and Hyundai models," the report said — though it noted that rates were already rising before those brands became popular targets.
  • Kia and Hyundai thefts surged in cities nationwide this year after a popular TikTok challenge showed users how to steal the cars.

By the numbers: The number of car thefts in the first six months of the year was 104.3% higher than the same period in 2019, the CCJ study found.

  • Of the 32 cities that provided crime data, seven of them saw rates shoot up by 100% or more compared to the same time last year.
  • Rochester, New York, saw the largest increase of vehicle thefts, with a spike of 355%, while St. Paul, Minnesota, saw the biggest drop at 41%.

Zoom in: CCJ couldn't "directly confirm that Kias and Hyundais are the most targeted" based off the data, report co-author Ernesto Lopez told Axios.

  • But "many jurisdictions have filed suit against these manufacturers, citing extremely large increases in vehicle thefts," he said.
  • Hyundai and Kia released new anti-theft software earlier this year in response to the issue.

The big picture: Motor vehicle theft is a "keystone crime" — meaning one "that facilitates the commission of homicide and other offenses," the CCJ noted in a press release.

  • “The overwhelming majority of vehicle thefts are associated with another crime. This would include both violent and property crimes, including selling stolen vehicles," Lopez told Axios.
  • While car thefts are increasing, homicides and other violent crimes are down in the first half of 2023.
Data: Council on Criminal Justice; Chart: Axios Visuals

Yes, but: "Though the level of serious violent crime is far below historical peaks, it remains intolerably high, especially in poorer communities of color," the report says.

  • The authors said "policymakers and communities must act urgently to adapt their strategies to meet the new challenges," and they pointed to research identifying measures that "reduce violence and improve the fairness and effectiveness of policing."
  • "Intensive efforts on both fronts are essential to help cities achieve lasting reductions in homicide and other crime," the report said.
Go deeper