What’s Behind Richmond's Car Theft Surge? 

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If you live in the Fan, near Jefferson Davis Highway or on Midlothian and drive an Accord, a Camry or a Civic, there’s a fairly good chance your vehicle could get swiped.

That’s a snapshot of the trends illustrated by data from Style’s annual Richmond Crime Almanac.

Of all the crimes reported in the city between 2014 and 2015, the biggest single increase was in car theft — up 23.7 percent.

“There’s no rhyme or reason for the increase,” according to Deputy Police Chief Eric English, who says that common sense can thwart car thieves.

“These are crimes of opportunity,” he says. “Yes, it’s up, and there was a big spike in 2006. But it’s not to the point of where it was 10 years ago.”

Areas such as the Fan or Midlothian register more car thefts because both areas have plenty of cars and lots of transients who can watch for potential targets.

Most of the time, it’s a young man who happens to spot an opportunity. “We had a vehicle stolen and we found it at a high school along with the thief,” English says. “He stole the car but he still went to school.”

None of the crime is organized along the lines of what are known as chop shops notable in some cities, English says. Those tend to be where several state borders intersect. A stolen car ends up in a covert garage where the parts are removed and sent to an adjoining state to thwart investigators.

Hondas and Toyotas are popular targets because older-model cars are easy to steal, he says: “It’s easy to pop the steering column, but the newer ones have more computer-based safeguards.”

Another shift is what items in cars criminals go after. Ten or more years ago, it was common for thieves to break into a car for radios and CD players. Today, English says, it’s anything in sight — notably laptops, cellphones, handguns or GPS devices.

Battling car thieves can be as easy as not leaving your car running. “People think they can drop into a store or warm up the car interior on a winter morning by leaving the engine running,” he says. “That’s just an invitation.”

Car theft “is a huge crime that we are trying to fight,” he says, but it is one that’s easily preventable.

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