Augusta motorists are reporting fewer vehicle thefts at the midway point in the year, following a statewide trend.
According to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office monthly crime statistics, there were 114 motor vehicle thefts reported in June, pushing the six-month total to 488. In the first half of 2012, there were 532 cases reported.
Despite the decrease in thefts, Investigator Billy Dixon said he stays busy tracking down missing cars. After all, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that a vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds.
“It’s an everyday thing,” he said. “It’s not happening as often in years past, but we’re always working on something.”
The FBI reports that 715,373 vehicles were stolen in 2011, costing owners and insurance companies about $4.3 billion nationwide. Georgia is among the worst states for vehicle theft, ranking sixth. California ranks No. 1.
With 881 reported thefts, Augusta was among the worst in the state in 2012. Columbus saw 846 cases, followed by Savannah, with 659, according to the FBI’s Web site. Atlanta, with more than 5,150 thefts, led all Georgia cities. Athens, which reported 243 thefts in 2012, was the only Georgia city included in the report that did not improve on its 2011 numbers.
In Columbia County, there have been 52 motor vehicle thefts so far in 2013. There were 99 cases in 2012, Capt. Steve Morris said.
About 40 percent of vehicle thefts involve mistakes by the driver, a July 8 NHTSA news release said. Many of the thefts are the result of vehicles left unlocked. Drivers who leave their keys in the car are most prone to theft, Morris said.
“We have very few forced-entry thefts,” he said. “(Unlocked vehicles) could be the byproduct of living in a neighborhood with a low crime rate.”
Thefts can occur anywhere, from residential neighborhoods to apartment complexes. Even gas stations can turn into crime scenes if drivers don’t exercise caution, Morris said.
“We’ve had vehicles stolen from gas stations where the driver left the keys in the car to go pay for gas,” he said.
NHTSA reports that only about 52 percent of stolen vehicles are ever recovered. Dixon and Morris both say the recovery rate is higher in the Augusta area, but the reason for the theft plays a big factor.
“Was it taken for parts or for a joy ride?” Dixon said. “Sometimes a vehicle is stolen just so the thief has a ride to the other side of town. Those are the quickest to recover.”
The vehicles are sometimes sold for scrap metal, Dixon said. One Richmond County incident report shows that a 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix was stolen from a house and sold to Newell Recycling for $374.65.
After a vehicle is stolen, however, officers must work quickly to track it down. The search becomes more difficult if the vehicle isn’t recovered in the first two or three days, Dixon said. After a vehicle is reported stolen or missing, it is entered into the National Crime Information Center in case it is recovered elsewhere.
“A majority of stolen vehicles are recovered over time,” Morris said. “Not all, for sure.”