Aiken County car thefts drop

AIKEN - Auto thefts are on the rise in South Carolina, but in Aiken County, it's just the opposite.

Last year, 368 vehicles were stolen in the county - a 24.1 percent decrease from 2005, the Aiken County Sheriff's Office reported.

Authorities aren't sure why.

"It's just one of those things that happens - a natural fluctuation," said Lt. Michael Frank, a spokesman for the sheriff's office.

Aiken County's decrease in auto thefts is not only in line with a similar drop in neighboring Richmond County, but it also mirrors a national decline.

According to preliminary data from the FBI, the nation saw a 2.3 percent drop in motor vehicle thefts from January 2006 to June 2006, continuing a three-year trend.

Aiken County's numbers are unusual for South Carolina. An annual report released last week by the National Insurance Crime Bureau said 23,763 vehicles were stolen in the metropolitan statistical areas of South Carolina in 2006 - five more than the previous year.

The Richmond County Sheriff's Office reported a decrease in motor vehicle thefts. For 2006, it reported 1,925 auto thefts, down from 2,065 in 2005.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety reported that auto thefts increased in 2006, up by 14 from 2005. Overall, auto thefts remain fairly low for the city of Aiken.

Lt. David Turno, a spokesman for the Aiken city police, said most of the stolen cars appear to be older model cars.

State Farm Insurance reported that the 1994 Honda Accord is the most commonly stolen car in South Carolina. In Georgia, it's the 1993 Ford Econoline E150.

"The older cars are easier to hot-wire and therefore a target to those looking for a quick ride," Lt. Turno said. "Many are taken by acquaintances of the victim."

Carelessness among vehicle owners, such as vehicles left unlocked with the keys in the ignition, also is a problem and gives thieves an opportunity.

Lt. Frank suggested that people take common-sense precautions to secure their automobiles, such as not leaving the windows rolled down and not leaving the keys in the ignition.

"People sometimes will pull into a convenience store and run inside just for a moment and leave the car running outside, and the next thing you know someone has stolen their automobile," he said.

"The more that we can do as conscientious car owners to protect our cars from theft and reduce those numbers will go a long way toward keeping car insurance rates down," said Allison Dean Love, the executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service.

Auto thefts cost car owners and insurance companies nearly $8 billion each year. Premium rates for comprehensive insurance are affected by the insured car's value at the time of the theft, the likelihood that it will be damaged if stolen and the vehicle's theft rate.

"Whether it's insurance fraud or vehicle thefts, the more that we, as a group, can drive more safely and prevent that type of thing from happening will help control our auto insurance costs," Ms. Love said.

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

PROTECTING YOUR VEHICLE

The National Insurance Crime Bureau recommends to consumers four steps to protect their vehicle from theft:

- Use common sense. Lock your doors, remove the keys and park in well-lit, public areas.

- Use visible and audible devices such as alarms or steering wheel locks.

- Use immobilizing devices such as cut-off switches and fuel disablers.

- Buy tracking devices that emit a signal to police when the vehicle is reported stolen.


CAR THEFTS IN THE AREA

Richmond County

2004..........2,031

2005..........2,065

2006..........1,925


Aiken County

474

485

368

City of Aiken

67

62

76