Car thieves love the Valley — but not as much as indicated in the latest national study. The researcher at the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported this week, in a highly publicized study, that the Valley ranked fourth in the nation for auto theft in 2004.
But the bureau acknowledged inaccuracies in its study following a Tribune analysis.
Rankings were based on auto thefts per 100,000 residents, but the organization did not use the latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Instead, the researcher relied on 2000 data.
"We were late this year in even doing the first calculation, so we couldn’t go back and do it again," bureau spokesman Frank Scafidi said. "We were aware that it would affect some areas, but we thought it would be understood that even though the numbers are not as accurate as they can be, they are
The outdated numbers benefited regions with declining populations, such as Detroit — ranked No. 15 — and New Orleans — ranked No. 29. But high-growth regions such as the Valley and Las Vegas — ranked No. 3 — suffered.
Concerned Las Vegas officials contacted Phoenix this week to discuss the problem.
Census data show that the Valley, defined in the report as Maricopa and Pinal counties, has gained more than 463,000 residents since the 2000 count. That means the vehicle theft rate, listed in the study at 1,241 thefts per 100,000 residents, should actually be 1,087 per 100,000 residents.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau could not say Thursday where the Valley would have ranked if current population had been used.
"The report uses preliminary FBI data," said Ann Armstrong, spokeswoman for the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority. "It’s our understanding that when the new crime report comes out in November, the final numbers will show a larger decrease."
Although the Valley had a 2 percent decrease in auto theft from 2003 to 2004 — despite its rising population — other regions reported increases. Stockton, Calif., saw an 11 percent increase and Las Vegas rose 9 percent.
Those two cities, formerly ranked below the Valley, jumped ahead in the latest survey.
The annual survey suggests the Valley isn’t getting much better in preventing car theft — other places just got worse. That’s why the Valley dropped from No. 1 in 2002 to No. 2 in 2003 to No. 4 last year.
But East Valley cities have made strides in stopping car thieves, officials said Thursday.
They report a combined average decrease of 8 percent in raw auto theft numbers from 2003 to 2004 — a much better showing than the numbers included in the report.
"All the programs combined have helped," said Tempe police Sgt. Joe Borsius, vehicle theft supervisor. "The extra focus we’ve put toward auto theft is the biggest thing."
A big reason for the decline is the fact that people must file their stolen car reports directly to a police officer now, instead of over the phone, said Phoenix police Lt. Lisa Messina. She said the face-to-face contact cuts down on insurance fraud.
As the Valley awaits a new FBI crime report in November, this one may have to do.
"It’s not an MIT-proof study by any stretch of the imagination," Scafidi said. "It’s just a cosmetic look at auto theft."