On Your Side: Investigating rates of car thefts in Alabama - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

On Your Side: Investigating rates of car thefts in Alabama

Jefferson Co. deputies once sought this person in connection to a McCalla car break-in. (Source: JCSO) Jefferson Co. deputies once sought this person in connection to a McCalla car break-in. (Source: JCSO)

FBI data from 2015, the most recent available, shows the top 10 cities in Alabama with the highest rates of car thefts are:

City Population Number of cars reported stolen Per capita theft rate
McIntosh 225 3 1 per 75 people
Lanett 6,444 59 1 per 109
Summerdale 1,033 9 1 per 115
Bayou La Batre 2,621 22 1 per 119
Douglas 670 6 1 per 112
Bessemer 26,828 205 1 per 131
Birmingham 212,291 1,515 1 per 140
Tarrant 6,225 43 1 per 145
Carbon Hill 1,969 13 1 per 151
Blountsville 1,701 11 1 per 151

According to a spokesperson for the Birmingham Police Department, the city reported fewer car thefts than what the FBI data shows. Lieutenant Sean Edwards says varying reporting criteria could be responsible for the discrepancy. Police say there were 1,042 car thefts in 2015, which is about 1 car theft for every 204 people. 

“Nevertheless, the last few years we have seen an increase in auto thefts,” Edwards said in a statement. 

“This is a crime that happens everywhere,” said Detective Sergeant Michael Mangina of the Irondale Police Department.  

That city had 33 car thefts for the year, or about 1 per every 388 people. 

Mangina says it is a crime of convenience. The most typical way criminal get inside a car is through an unlocked car.  

And that’s exactly how Crystal Burford believes her husband’s truck was stolen from their driveway.  

“Basically we think we were hit by a group of people going through our neighborhood testing car doors to see if they were open,” Burford explained.  The truck was stolen in 2015. 

She says they usually lock their car doors, but with a couple young kids to usher in the house on a busy weekday evening, she imagines they could have mistakenly left the doors unlocked. 

The experience convinces Burford that “it could happen to anybody.”

“Our neighborhood is a closely knit community. We know pretty much all of our neighbors. On a day to day basis, we have very rare instances of any kind of trouble or any kind of issues,” she explained. 

Even if cars are locked, Mangina says tools to break into cars are readily available to more determined thieves.  For under $100, one can purchase items called “slim jims” or “long johns” on the internet. They are used to pry doors and windows open so cars can be unlocked from the inside. 

For more desperate criminals, it takes only a couple seconds to shatter a window. 

“Most of the time, what I’ve seen, they have drug problems and they are trying to get money and they are trying to get stuff they can sell quickly to buy their drugs,” Mangina explained. 

Edwards adds that Birmingham police see citizens leaving keys inside cars on a recurring basis.  “For instance, stopping at a gas station and leaving the key fob in the car, or going inside a convenience store to make a purchase with the car running, or warming the car up outside your home,” Edwards explains gives thieves the opportunity to strike.  

Mangina says the best prevention is the easiest – citizens should remember to lock car doors and hide valuables. 

Edwards adds that police work daily to prevent this crime.  

“We still believe that good old fashion police work like making constitutionally sound traffic stops, consistent patrol techniques and frequent citizen encounters will help decrease the number of auto thefts,” he said. 

For a complete list of car thefts for all cities reporting in Alabama, view this Excel sheet:

If you can't see the sheet above, you can download it by clicking here.

The FBI data relied upon is collected from local law enforcement across the country through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The FBI advises against ranking and comparing cities based solely on the UCR data, explaining it ignores unique aspects of each locale, like population density and urbanization.  

The FBI’s complete statement on data usage can be found here: https://ucr.fbi.gov/ucr-statistics-their-proper-use

Lydia Hu will have more on these numbers in a special report Wednesday, February 15 at 10 p.m.

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