Sunday, February 8, 2015

A snapshot of Car Theft in the U.S. from the Mid-1960s




A Snapshot of the Cars that were Stolen
            As a result of a Department of Justice survey done in the mid- 1960s, the following tabular data provided a snapshot of auto theft immediately prior to the direct involvement of the federal government in forcing the automobile industry to redesign various anti-theft features that included steering wheel locks, the elimination of vent windows, external door locks, and internal door lock “buttons.” [1] 
Table II-2:  Sample of Types of Vehicles Stolen, 1966 Department of Justice Survey of 1659 returned prisoner surveys
Make of Vehicle
Number
Percent
Stolen
Buick
255
7.4
Cadillac
96
2.5
Camaro
12
.3
Chevrolet
1,548
40.2
Chrysler
40
1.0
Comet
18
.5
Corvair
77
2.0
Corvette
76
3.0
Dodge
84
2.2
Falcon
28
.7
Ford
527
13.7
Impala
88
2.3
Imperial
8
.2
Lincoln
23
.6
Mercury
60
1.6
Mustang
100
2.6
Oldsmobile
210
5.4
Plymouth
124
3.2
Pontiac
244
6.3
Pontiac GTO
34
.9
Rambler
60
1.6
Thunderbird
55
1.4
Volkswagen
57
1.5

            Clearly, in the 1960s, thieves -- primarily joy riders -- preferred the common vehicle over luxury and European brands.  As the next table illustrates, older cars -- for whatever reason (perhaps because owners cared less about them), were more likely to be stolen. Hot spots for the "boost" were most likely to be in front of one's home, or at a shopping center.  Logically, theft rates increased at night.  And, corroborating industry spokesmen and insurance investigators, the large majority of thefts took place because the owner left the keys in the car or left the ignition switch in the on position, a common occurrence during that era when a keyless ignition switch "position" was a feature on all General Motors cars. No car was safe, and no owner, no matter what class or race was immune from the activity of the car thief.  For example, in 1964, Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1963 Corvette Sting Ray was stolen at the Dulles airport while its owner was away on a trip back to the West Coast. That same year, in several major cities, a publicity campaign – “Lock Your Car – Take Your Keys” -- was undertaken with positive short-term results. Both in Boston and in San Francisco the National Automobile Theft Bureau worked with police officials to mount a television, radio and newspaper effort urging car owners to lock their cars. Parking meter decals and leaflets included in the mailing of utility bills spread a message that somewhat arrested but did not stop the tide of increasing thefts. Yet the outcome of this endeavor was far from overwhelming -- in Boston the campaign resulted in an increase in thefts of only 18%, nationwide in major cities the rate was 25% during the first quarter of 1964.[2]
Table II-3:  Sample of Years of Automobiles Stolen, from Department of Justice 1966 Prisoner Survey

Year
Number
Percent
Before 1960
1,585
43.1
1960
247
6.4
1961
187
4.9
1962
302
7.8
1963
367
9.5
1964
425
11.0
1965
438
11.4
1966
325
8.4
1967
113
2.9

Table II-4: Place of Theft 1966 Department of Justice Prisoner Survey
Place of Theft
Number
Percent
Public street -- business
586
15.4
Public Street -- Residential
1,212
29.5
Attended Parking Lot
144
3.8
Shopping Center Lot
161
4.2
Unattended Parking Lot
566
14.9
Public Parking Lot
163
4.3
Home Garage or Carport
177
4.7
Home Driveway
332
8.7
New or Used Car Lot
491
12.9
Car Rental Agency
62
1.6

Table II-5: Purpose of Theft 1966 Department of Justice Prisoner Survey
Purpose of Theft
Number
Percent
Transportation
1,381
34.8
Joyriding
1,818
45.8
Sale
198
5
Sale of Parts
125
3.1
In connection with crime
107
2.7
Escape
228
5.7


Table II-6: Time of Theft 1966, Department of Justice Prisoner Survey
Time of Theft
Number
Percent
Daylight
340
346
Dark
642
654

Table II-7: Method of Entry 1966, Department of Justice Prisoner Survey
Method of Entry
Number
Percent
Car left unlocked
2923
75.9
Forced
322
8.4
Key from another car
81
2.1
Key legally obtained
176
4.6
Key illegally obtained
351
9.1



Table II-8: How a Stolen Car was Started 1966, Department of Justice Prisoner Survey
Method of Starting
Number
Percent
Key left in ignition
1,664
43.2
Key left in car but not ignition
131
3.4
Master, jiggler, try out key
182
4.7
Jump wires under hood
152
3.9
Cross wires under dash
245
6.4
Separate ignition system
57
1.5
Ignition on "off" position
666
17.3
Tin foil
68
1.8
Screwdriver or other tool
93
2.4
Key legally obtained
207
5.4
Key Illegally obtained
391
10.1




[1] "US Department of Transportation Survey" In US Congress, House of Representatives, 90th Congress, 2nd Session. Hearings Before Subcommittee No. 5 of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, H.R. 15215 and Related Bills, March 6, 14, 1968 (Washington: GPO, 1968), p.35.
[2] National Automobile Theft Bureau, “Police in Two Major Cities Declare an All-Out War on Auto Thieves,” Action Report, 1 (September-October, 1964), 1,4.

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