Tue. May 24th, 2022

October 9, 2021

When the coronavirus pandemic hit Los Angeles last year and people started leaving their cars parked on the street for extended periods, opportunistic thieves jumped. By the end of 2020, a total of 21,313 cars had been stolen in the city, according to publicly available data from the Los Angeles Police Department. This is an increase of more than 35% from the previous year.

One block was hit harder than anything else: In Eastside’s Boyle Heights, 746 cars were taken.

While the number is shocking, it is no anomaly: More cars have been stolen in Boyle Heights than in any other neighborhood each year from 2012-2020. In fact, during that period, 5,522 cars were stolen – the next most vulnerable community was Van Nuys, where 4,423 cars were taken within this time frame.

The 746 car thefts in densely populated Boyle Heights last year were almost a 30% increase from 2019. A further 534 car thefts have already happened in the community this year. For the first time in almost a decade, however, another neighborhood sees more cars taken – by September 20, 654 cars in Downtown have disappeared.

Corey Witte, senior adviser to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, said car thefts had been declining before coronavirus. He described the temporary closure of non-essential businesses and other movements that kept vehicles parked for extended periods as a “perfect storm” for an increase in stolen cars.

“There was also unemployment,” Witte said. “We had closed schools, lack of social outreach programs, and we also had a lot of cars that just stood still. People didn’t have to drive.”

Zero bail issue

LAPD officials have also cited the policy of “zero bail” in Los Angeles County jails. It was introduced to reduce the spread of coronavirus and eliminated the bail requirement for low-level crimes and misdemeanors, meaning many accused thieves were quickly back on the streets.

In fact, last year, Glendora police arrested a man three times in one day for stealing cars.

One factor that makes Boyle Heights particularly vulnerable to car theft is that many of the vehicles in the largely working-class neighborhood are older Toyotas and Hondas, some of the easiest models for thieves to steal because their ignitions can be easily manipulated.

Barry Allen, a resident of Boyle Heights, said a friend’s Honda Civic was stolen from the area this year. Days after it disappeared, Allen saw the suspected thief driving it. He tried to follow the car on his skateboard, but lost track of the car.

“But we knew the guy was in the area. So the next day we were driving around Boyle Heights looking for the stolen car and we found the guy and chased him until the police arrested him,” Allen said.

Density and fob factor

Another possible element of the high theft rate is density. Boyle Heights has more than 16,000 inhabitants per capita. Square kilometers, and finding a place to park can be a challenge. As a result, car owners sometimes leave their vehicles in unsupervised and unsafe areas.

Even before the pandemic, vehicle theft represented about 18% of all crime in the city, according to the LAPD.

While experienced car thieves can steal a vehicle in less than a minute, owners sometimes make it extremely easy – blaming keyless technology.

“Key phobia has made our lives easier in so many ways,” Witte said, “but we’ve seen an increase in vehicles being stolen because now people are jumping in the car, throwing their key phobia in the cup holder, and they’re going about their business, and they just forget it completely. Leaving the key fob in the car is one of the main reasons we continue to see so many stolen vehicles. “

During the pandemic, many stolen cars in LA were found nearby, leading police to conclude that “joyriding” was a common motivation.

To prevent your car from being stolen, the LAPD recommends that you never leave your car unattended, never leave keys in your car, always lock your car and park in well-lit areas.


Here’s how we did it: We examined publicly available crime data from the Los Angeles Police Department from January 1, 2017-Sept. 20, 2021. Learn more about our data here.

LAPD data only reflects crimes reported to the department, not how many crimes have actually occurred. In our calculations, we rely on the data that the LAPD makes publicly available. The LAPD can update previous crime reports with new information or categorize previous reports. These revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.

Want to know how your neighborhood is doing? Or simply just interested in our data? Send us an email at askus@xtown.la.


Crosstown is a non-profit local news organization based in Los Angeles. They use data to provide significant insights to communities to help people make their neighborhoods safer, healthier and more connected. Sign up for their free weekly newsletter at xtown.la to get neighborhood-level data on crime, air quality and traffic delivered to your inbox.

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