To the relief of law enforcement authorities, the pace of auto thefts in the Valley seems to be stuck in neutral, if not slowly rolling backward.
While a study released Tuesday shows the Valley’s vehicle theft rate ranks fourth in the nation, the underlying numbers show an improvement.
“Look at where we used to be on that list,” Mesa detective Tim Gaffney said.
Three years ago, the Valley was the nation’s capital for stolen cars. But since then the rate has dropped by almost 11 percent and is nearly even with the pace of 2001.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, using statistics compiled from the FBI and U.S. Census Bureau, the Valley reported about 41,000 vehicle thefts in 2005 — about 1,103.5 thefts per 100,000 residents. Ranking higher are the metropolitan areas of Modesto, Calif. (1,418.8); Las Vegas (1,360.9); and Stockton, Calif. (1,167.3).
The top-10 metro areas are all in the West, with six in California.
Because these hot spots are close to Mexico or ports of entry, or both, many stolen vehicles are lost to their owners forever.
Enrique Cantu, executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, said two of every five vehicles stolen in the state go unrecovered.
The drop in the Valley’s vehicle theft rate mirrors the national trend seen by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Preliminary FBI data show a 2.1 percent decrease in vehicle thefts during the first half of 2005 when compared with the same period in 2004. This is the second straight year the rate has dropped nationally.
Crime bureau officials credited the continuing decline to the effective use of bait cars — vehicles that are fitted with tracking devices and audio and video recorders, then left in theft-prone areas.
On Friday, Mesa police arrested two men suspected of stealing a bait vehicle.
Since the program began in February 2003, Gaffney said bait cars have snared 57 suspects in Mesa.