San Jose car thefts on the rise, beating national trends
Vehicles parked along a San Jose street. File photo.

    Vehicle thefts are up across San Jose—and you might be more vulnerable if you drive an older Honda.

    According to the city, vehicle thefts rose by 15% between 2019 and 2020. Preliminary data shows thefts recorded in January and February of this year outstripped thefts during the same time in 2020 by a whopping 49%, according to the San Jose Police Department.

    San Jose residents reported 7,065 vehicle thefts in 2020, up from 6,126 the year before. In the first three months of 2021, residents reported 1,736 thefts.

    The data concerned multiple members of the San Jose City Council, who upon learning the trends asked for more information from the department, including reasons for the surge and what the department is doing to combat these thefts.

    “As the San Jose Police Department moves forward to combat car thefts in our city, my office will continue to support their efforts, along with sharing awareness and safety tips with our residents,” Councilmember Raul Peralez told San José Spotlight.

    SJPD shared information tracked by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) about thefts across the state and country. According to the NICB, auto thefts across the country on average rose by about 9% between 2019 and 2020, putting San Jose well ahead of that trend.

    “Considerations such as the pandemic, economic downturn, loss of juvenile outreach programs and public safety budgetary and resource limitations are likely contributing factors (to the increase),” said NICB President and CEO David Glawe in a statement earlier this year. “Thieves exploit opportunities and may look for vehicles parked in the same location or (people) not taking proper measures to secure their vehicles.”

    NICB also tracked the most commonly stolen cars in California last year, which found thieves often targeted Honda Civics and Accords, followed by Ford pick-up trucks.

    Seven of the 10 most commonly stolen models on the list were manufactured in 2003 or earlier.

    The 10 most commonly stolen vehicles in California. Chart courtesy of NICB.

    Only two officers are assigned to the San Jose Police Department’s auto thefts unit, according to the department.

    Police department officials said they couldn’t comment on whether there would eventually be a need for more officers assigned to auto thefts.

    “We will respond and take vehicle theft reports when reported,” said department spokesperson Christian Camarillo.

    In a sample audit of 2021 vehicle theft data from the police traffic investigations unit, an analysis found 70% of vehicles were stolen from public streets. The majority of stolen vehicles, about 88%, were locked with the windows rolled up. Only two vehicles were left running at the time they were stolen.

    SJPD recovered about 95% of stolen vehicles from the audit. Of the vehicles recovered, 13% were being driven at the time and the driver was arrested.

    Department officials say there were no significant patterns in types of thefts, nor were there any noticeable patterns in the demographics of car theft suspects. Incidents were also evenly spread across the city, and not in any one particular area or region.


    A hotspot map of vehicle thefts from January and February of this year. Image courtesy of SJPD.

    Car thefts trended upward elsewhere in the county, too. The Santa Clara Police Department recorded 555 vehicle thefts last year, compared with 372 in 2019. In the first three months of 2021, police records show 168 vehicle thefts, putting Santa Clara on track to record more than 600 by the end of the year if trends remain the same.

    The city’s police department says it has a three-prong approach to address the uptick in vehicle theft. First, the department’s patrol division is sent to conduct patrol checks in areas of higher frequency for vehicle theft. The department says it also uses license plate reader technology to identify and locate stolen vehicles.

    The department also works with the Regional Auto Theft Task Force to proactively locate, identify, arrest and prosecute vehicle thieves.

    The San Jose Police Department recommends vehicle owners take specific actions to deter vehicle theft, including removing valuables from vehicles (even if it’s locked) and installing a mechanical locking device, often called a club, that locks to the steering wheel.

    The department also recommends removing dash or window mounts for GPS devices or smartphones, because even the appearance of a mount might cause a thief to break in and look for valuable electronics.

    Finally, never leave a car running or the keys in the ignition when away from it, even if it’s just for a minute.

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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