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Port cities, border towns worst for auto theft

Nine of the top 10 cities that led the nation in auto theft in 2002 were either seaports or cities that lay along the Mexican or Canadian borders, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

For the second consecutive year, the Phoenix-Mesa, Arizona, area had the highest vehicle theft rate in the nation, followed closely by three cities in northern California.

Most of the auto-theft capitals were in the West. In fact, 19 of the top 25 auto-theft centers lie west of the Mississippi River and nine are in California, where vehicle theft has surged, growing from 182,000 in 2000 to 210,000 in 2001, and more than 227,000 in 2002.

Many stolen cars are smuggled out of the country by ship and sold overseas. The autos can be put in trucking containers or even brought onboard ship just minutes before it sails, said Lt. Greg Terp, commander of the Miami-Dade Multi-Agency Auto Theft Task Force.

Miami, the only Eastern city on the top 10 metropolitan areas on NICB's list, has started using a gamma-ray device to quickly inspect container cargos coming into the port for concealed autos, he said, and in the last year Miami has dropped from second to sixth.

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Theft rates in several other cities declined. Detroit declined from fourth in 2001 to 11th in 2002; Tucson dropped from sixth in 2001 to 13 in 2002; and Jersey City, N.J., fell from 10th in 2001 to 23rd in 2002.
The 10 worst auto theft capitals of America, according to the NICB, are:

1. Phoenix, Ariz.
2. Fresno, Calif.
3. Modesto, Calif.
4. Stockton-Lodi, Calif.
5. Las Vegas, Nev.
6. Miami, Fla.
7. Sacramento, Calif.
8. Oakland, Calif.
9. Seattle, Wash.
10. Tacoma, Wash.

The five safest metropolitan areas in the U.S., or its territories, by the way, are Williamsport, Pa.; Glens Falls, N.Y.; Mayaguez, Puerto Rico; Elmira, N.Y.; and State College, Pa., ranking 332 to 336, respectively.

For a listing of the vehicle theft rates in all 336 metro areas of the U.S., click here.

Rod Gibson is a freelance writer based in Georgia.

-- Posted: Sept. 23, 2003

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