Car thefts spike in Oakland, with certain models and neighborhoods targeted
on December 14, 2023
More than 12,000 vehicles have been stolen this year in Oakland, where the thefts are on a dramatic rise.
Car thefts in Oakland have increased by 49% since last year, Oakland Police Department data from this fall shows, a jump that has put some residents on edge. The neighborhoods with the highest rates of car thefts include Hegenberger, Coliseum, and Lakeside — with 1,815, 300 and 298 cases, respectively.
Gilligan Brown, who has lived in Oakland for more than 25 years, had her car stolen on Aug. 1 while attending an Alicia Keys concert with her daughter at the Coliseum. She parked her silver Kia Forte in the Coliseum parking lot. When she walked back to her car after an hour, her car wasn’t there.
“My daughter and I were very confused. We kept asking where our car was,” Brown said.
Brown depended on her car for a living. She worked for Uber and Doordash to support her four children. Now that her car is missing, she has lost all of her income.
She said she immediately reported the theft to the Police Department. However, there haven’t been any updates from the police since that time.
As a result of the crime, Brown said she’s reevaluating whether to stay in Oakland.
“It has changed so much, like it is a lawless city,” she said.
Police told Brown her car might be targeted because it was a Kia. Some cars made by Kia and Hyundai are especially vulnerable to thefts because they lack anti-theft devices called immobilizers.
A group of 18 states, including California, has urged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to initiate a federal recall of Hyundai and Kia vehicles because of the lack of sufficient safety features on selected vehicles.
To combat car thefts, Oakland police initiated a pilot program by creating an X (formerly Twitter) account for residents to report them. Launched on Oct. 26, the program came to an abrupt halt within a day. The OaklandAutoBurg X account posted a message saying, “Thank you, Oakland, for your participation in our Auto Burglary Suppression Investigation. We are deactivating this account until further notice.”
The Oakland Police Department did not respond to questions from Oakland North about why the program was shut down or to requests for comments about what is being done to reduce car thefts.
‘It is happening to us now’
Earlier this fall, Tosca Necoechea, a resident in the Bushrod neighborhood, had her Mazda CX-9 stolen.
On Oct. 2, Necoechea’s husband was set to take their children to school but discovered that their car, which had been parked in front of their house, was gone. Necoechea immediately called 911 and her insurance company.
She said she keeps an eye on crime statistics, so when she discovered the car missing, it didn’t come as a surprise.
“My feeling was, ‘OK, it is happening to us now,'” she said.
Later that week, police found Necoechea’s car 10 blocks away. There was no evidence that the thieves had managed to start the engine. Instead, it seemed that the car had been forcefully nudged by another vehicle from behind for 10 blocks. Necoechea did not retrieve the Mazda since she had already completed the insurance claim and received compensation.
“It was not just a personal loss. It was a social violation,” Necoechea said. “We have the means to rebound from it, but for others, it is not that simple. Some people rely on their cars for daily living.”
Thieves like catalytic converters
Mikalela Zamarron, who owns a 2012 Honda Civic, said she is most concerned about the possible theft of her car’s catalytic converter, which is expensive to replace.
“I haven’t really been afraid that my car would be stolen, but the catalytic converter being stolen,” Zamarron said. “It cost a couple of thousands to get a replacement, and I can’t afford to spend such money,” she added.
Though worried, she believes high-end cars are more susceptible to catalytic converter thefts and says her model doesn’t fall into that category.
Following a spike in the theft of catalytic converters in 2022, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed two new laws that make it illegal for anyone to buy catalytic converters except from authorized dealers. Newsom said catalytic converter thefts had increased tenfold since 2018.
“We’re going to get to one of the root causes of this crime, and that’s those brokers and those middlemen who pay top dollar for stolen parts,” Newsom said in 2022. “If you take away the market for stolen goods, you can help cut down on stealing,” he added.
(Top map: Oakland car theft data, the larger the circle, the more thefts, by Hailey Wang)
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