Friday, February 13, 2009

Explain this

Here's a couple questions for the theorists, thinkers, and crime analysts out there among the readers of the Chief's Corner. Lincoln's auto theft rate is very low--just compare us to any other city of note. Despite it's low level to begin with, it has been falling for a good long time. Here is Lincoln's auto theft rate for the past 21 years (click image to enlarge):

The national rate in 2008 was 363 auto thefts per 100,000 residents. The national rate has been falling in a similar fashion since the mid-1980's. So here's my question: why, and what should we learn from this?


Anonymous said...

Trickier locks. Hangers progressed from a vertical pin to a horizontal bar. No we have metal metal braces that make the use of a slimjim even more difficult. From there they created an under the window and inside of the cabin tool. Maybe as the difficulty increased then the novices found easier targets while the pros remained employed.

JIM J said...

I do not think that gang memberships hold auto theft on the list of "Things to do"
It is a low priority. Drugs, hookers, and killings are much more esteemed. Crime is much more technical, complex and with federal laws numbered in the tens of thousands, confusing. Did you know it is against federal law to posses a lobster, under six inches? It does not matter if you found it, was gifted it, it is alive or dead, or died of disease or of natural causes. With more federal laws than the Government accounting office can count, you can see there are tens of thousands of ways to break the laws. And, not even know it! I try very hard to be a law abiding citizen, and do not knowingly break the law. I also, avoid lobsters under six inches.
Good luck to Lincoln's finest today. Get those accident report pens dipped in ink. Perhaps LSO could lend a taser or two to use on the tailgating drivers and those that change lanes without turn signals. Yesterday, a man was upset. He changed multiple lanes with no signals. Only to find me in front of him, as I navigated to his front, proudly displaying my signals in the process, I noticed he was visibly angry. He was proceeding to spit chunks of his big mac all over his front window. Wow, what a waste of food.

Greg Nelson said...


New cars are more difficult to steal due to anti-theft devices. As older vehicles attrition off the roads, there are less opportunities for thieves.

cjackson said...

Without knowing all the facts (like closure rate for code 37s, the corresponding incarceration rate, the size of the typical cohort for car thieves) it might just boil down to economic factors, good old supply and demand.

If the marginal cost of stealing and chopping a car is higher than its expected value, car thieves won't find much profit in this activity. Instead they'll devote time to other crimes that may have lower barriers to entry, or higher returns on their time.

We're lucky that many criminals aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer, but economic imperatives will have a macroeconomic effect on the theft rate.

Buck said...

Do you think the decrease in car thefts correlate in any way to the increased prevalence in car alarms? I can't seem to find any statistics related to car alarm use.

Phillyun said...

One might just say "stay in school" / "don't do drugs", but I'll leave that to someone else. Ha!
I'm of the belief that these trends closely match the other crime trends (homicide, gun crimes, etc) but take that belief with a large block of salt, I don't have the data to back it up.

Anonymous said...

As far as Lincoln's auto theft rate being very low, a couple of possible reasons: 1. I think that LPD and LSO are probably very vigilant when it comes to chop shops or any rumors of chop shops in or around Lincoln. 2. We're a long way from any international border, especially the Mexican border.

Regarding declining auto theft rates nationally: Factory engine immobilizers on an increasing proportion of new cars - bring a tow truck if you want to steal one of those cars. Canada mandated that every new 2008+ car sold must have an engine immobilizer, or you couldn't sell it in Canada. I'm not a fan of most gub'mint mandates, but on things like mandatory seat belts, ABS, skid control, and engine immobilizers (anti-theft and safety), I'm usually willing to make an exception. When you do it to every car, it's a lot cheaper.

When was the last auto theft in Lincoln where the car had a factory engine immobilizer (chipped coded key) and the thief had no key available?

Anonymous said...

Seems pretty obvious: Technology. Did your 1987 Ford have keyless entry? Did it have VIN number on just about every part of the car? Cars have gotten smarter, ABS, airbags, electronic start... and so have their security features. (just about the only thing Detroit has done right in the past 20 years) It is pretty hard to get newer cars started with just a screw driver or rubbing a few wires together.

Mr. Wilson said...

A question came to mind while pondering your query: How do our rates of thefts from autos and auto vandalism compare to national rates, and how are they trending? If the numbers stacked up correctly, one could hypothesize that local criminals prefer to work with small pieces rather than the entire automobile. But that's a big "if".

Anonymous said...

Another thing: Omaha has over 4x our auto theft rate (and over 4x our murder rate). Those numbers are for 2006, not 2007 (somebody's asleep). They're only 50 miles away, so why the huge discrepancy in the auto theft rates? Not to instigate anything (evil grin), but why do you think their auto theft rate might blow ours into the weeds?

Hilariously, the stats allege that Omaha's rate of aggravated assault is lower than ours - but if anyone believes that, then they're sharp as a sack of wet leather, and I've got some great oceanfront property in Custer County that I'd like to sell them.

Tom Casady said...

Well, that stimulated some good discussion! IMHO, Greg Nelson, 9:52, and others nailed it: newer cars are harder to steal, and the older vehicles are aging out of the fleet. But no one has answered my second question: what should we learn from this?

Mr. Wilson:

No national source for data to compare, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

What do we learn from this? While you can't eliminate auto theft, you can reduce it by making it harder to commit (engine immobilizers and other passive anti-theft tech). Passive is critical, because many people won't do anything they don't have to, like manually enabling any security doodads.

Energetic auto thieves can take some consolation in the maddening fact that more than a few pinheads will still leave their cars unlocked with the keys in the ignition, defeating all these great security features! Keys that stay in the pocket with proximity sensors are one way this problem might be reduced.

If you don't have an engine immobilizer, think seriously about spending 30 or 40 bucks on a "club" lock for the steering wheel, and if you do get a club, use it all the time. ALL the time. Once something becomes habit, you'll just do it without really thinking.

Anonymous said...

In answer to your second question: We should all buy a new car. It will be less likely stolen...and you'll help stimulate the economy!

Anonymous said...

@Jim J

Is there any laws against impersonating a lobster?

podunk said...

I wonder if technology can really take all of the credit, here.

What about demand? A used car today is a lot better than used cars in the 80s, so a lot of people have been buying off the used-car market.

New cars are also being way overproduced, and they've been having a hard time selling them for years - not even no-money-down, 0.0% interest for the first year, and huge rebates have been able to move them.

Until the recent market crash, it was easy for people with terrible credit records to sign their life away for a new car. Could it be that some people who might otherwise buy a stolen car went legit when credit became easier to obtain?

Now gas, on the other hand...about a year ago I flew down to Florida for 2 weeks on business and left my car on the surface lot at the airport. When I got back someone had popped my trunk, folded the back seat in, crawled to the front seat to release the gas cap lever, and drained my tank.

I never reported it. I wonder what the stats are for gas theft.

podunk said...

Also, these days a new car just doesn't have the caché that it used to have. Nothing screams "I'm a fool" quite like "I just bought a new car".

Tom Casady said...


That's a very specific answer, and a good one. I was looking, though, for a more generalized "learning": prevention strategies work. Things like better door and locking systems, alarms, smart keys, and so forth are a heck of a lot more effective than arresting the occasional car thieves. You can bust meth labs until the world looks level, but if you can control ephedrine, the impact is far more dramatic than the arrests. Getting a grip on the sale of ill-gotten copper is better than just arresting the occasional slow scrap thief. Airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, seat belts, and airbags will have a hugely greater impact on traffic safety than any amount of selective enforcement projects we can undertake. Want to stop gas drive-offs from self-service pumps? Arresting Beavis once again is woefully ineffective, but pre-pay policies by retailers will end it immediately. And so on, and so on.

Tom Casady said...


How in the world did you know that I just bought a new car?

podunk said...

:-) Present company excluded.

Anonymous said...

You're not a fool! I bought a new one too, less than a year ago. All-wheel-drive, stability control, tons of airbags, superb brakes, 5-star crash ratings all around. Factory engine immobilizer and alarm (I also use a club, every time I park, even locked in a garage), and remote start. I don't think it was foolish to buy a safe and stealthy sedan when one can afford to do so.

The factory stereo and nav system is pretty good, but I can't watch DVD movies in neutral, only in park (big drag at the car wash).

Anonymous said...

Once again, the icrime theory is blown out of the water.

Anonymous said...

I think what is learned is to make it not worthwhile to commit a crime. For instance, drugs remain a big problem for law enforcement because while education, laws, rehab, etc. have made a dent in it, the profit is still substantial. Therefore, it is worth it for the criminal and has much better returns and less work for the payoff. A car thief isn't going to get away with it unless they have some intricate way of eliminating the VIN's all over the vehicle. What can be learned is making it harder for the perps to make an easy profit. In short, comparing crime to a business is a pretty simple way to analyze IMHO. How much work do you have to do to make a buck? What is the risk? How long does it take for the payoff? In the case of auto thieves: they would have to do a lot of work to turn a profit in a very risky situation and the payoff may only be a few hundred dollars that could take months to get. On the other hand, drugs, while also risky on many fronts offers a quick turnaround and a pretty good margin.

Anonymous said...

Consider A9-013168, a daylight residential burglary in a neighborhood with no other residential burglaries within 1/4-mile during the last 90 days. Whoever did this apparently kicked in the door of a rental house worth less than 100k, and absconded with a safe reportedly containing cash and some not-too-looty papers.

This made me lower my eyebrows a couple of notches, because why that house, out of all the others in 1/4-mile? Do residents of most 95K rentals usually have enough cash to warrant a safe? If so, then why are they renting? If crooks are willing to risk a daring daylight forced entry, why there, not 3 or 4 blocks SSE, where the houses are farther apart, notably more affluent, and where there would likely be much better loot?

To cut to the heart of the matter, do you suspect that this incident may be drug-related? Did my instinct give me a false blip?

Tom Casady said...


More to the story. Your detector continues to function well. Applications are currently being accepted.

Steve said...

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Tom Casady said...


Holy cow! That's a lot of hats!

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the unwise, A9-014198 UNLCKD & RUNNING VEH TKN FRM STREET 1994 PONTIAC GRAND AM, at approx 12th & Washington, on 2-15 at 8:28pm. Put a club lock on, if you've absolutely must leave it running. FYI, it was barely freezing at that time yesterday, not much reason for the unattended, unlocked, keys-in-the-car idle.

John Blutarsky said...

I think the obvious is the work that LPD does when they get a sniff of a 'group' of boys and girls who are stealing cars. Unbeknownst to most people in the City of Lincoln; LPD officers do not sit around in their substations but are actively out enforcing laws and on patrol - which will always lead to a lower crime rate. Not enough credit goes out to the officers and sgts.

Anonymous said...

Regarding auto theft/burglary A9-014280 UNK PR ENT OPEN GARAGE & STOLE VEH 1999 HONDA PASSPORT, those don't have factory engine immobilizers, which makes them easy pickings (Honda arrived late to immob tech, which is one reason why you so see so may late-90s/early-00s Hondas stolen). Did they have the key, or just pop the column and rip it the usual way? Was a side door unlocked, or was the...flippin' overhead door actually open?

First off, close and lock your garage! All the doors! LPD has put a lot of effort into getting that out, but a lot of people are figuratively deaf, blind, and especially dumb when it comes to simple, basic security.

Anonymous said...

Here's an interesting breakdown:

In the previous 30 days, Lincoln had 23 auto theft incidents reported. One of the 23 was an attempt that failed; they tried to rip the car, but were too inept to pull it off, and instead settled for some CDs and a drill. The remaining 22 could be classified as follows:

5 had the keys left in the car, either in the ignition or clumsily "hidden" under the seat/in the console/etc

4 were taken by a friend, using keys that were left available to them

3 were left running and unlocked!

3 were repossessed by or on behalf of a creditor

2 were taken by the owner's kid!

1 was towed, but to the previous owner's house

which means that only

4 were actually ripped off by an unknown crook, without keys being made handy. None of these 4 had factory engine immobilizers.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, make that 24 completed thefts in the last 30 days. The two from today (which didn't make my CVC search) were both left unlocked and running, a famous pinhead move.

Steve said...

I know this isn't on the subject of this post, but I'm anxious to hear if you have any comments concerning the tire vandalism of a few days ago at the North 27th street substation. On topic, I think car thieves have seen the light and are going "green" by stealing bicycles instead of cars.

Tom Casady said...


Very annoying. Fortunately, these kinds of incidents have been very rare in the past 9 years we've lived at 1501 N. 27th Street. I was amused by the comments in the online edition of the Lincoln Journal Star. I'm sometimes amazed at the level of ill-informed commentary and cynical assumptions.

We've had our occasional incidents at our downtown headquarters, too. Most recently, a drunk driver who plowed into several of our parked units. There's a bullet hole in my assistant chief's office window (from the outside, that is).

Mark Bach said...

Can I play?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Are more houses now built with garages and hence less cars at risk?

Can we compare thefts against the number of cars registered to your county? If 10% more residents don't have cars there are less cars at risk.

Tom Casady said...


Nice analysis. Obviously, if people would lock their car and take their key, we wouldn't have many auto thefts!

Mark Bach-

I don't have the data at my fingertips, but I can assure you auto registrations are tracking population growth closely. Auto thefts per capita is a fair surrogate for auto thefts per 100,000 registered vehicles. The garage question is interesting. I can't think of any source for data on that. Personally, I can't see that being much of a factor--particularly in comparison to technological changes such as locking systems, immobilizers, alarms, and the demise of the once-ubiquitous wing vent.

allen said...

But why is Lincoln's rate of car theft so much lower than the national average? I mean, they've got garages and new cars and stuff in other towns too. If I'm reading that chart thingy right, ours is around a third of the national average. Is there something in the water here that helps people not leave their keys in their cars?

Is it something about being the state capital? Or having a largish student population?

Historically, the insurance industry has provided a good chunk of Lincoln's payroll. I don't know how things stand today in that regard, but might not people employed in that industry be more, uh, mindful, of not leaving the keys in the car?