No more #1 - Fresno drops on auto theft list

FRESNO, Calif.

Auto thefts rose nationwide in 2012 for the first time in eight years, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, and insurance experts blame it on budget cuts and smaller police departments in California. But efforts by Fresno police appear to be having an effect and that could save you some money.

When Fresno police arrest car thieves like Rodney Jones, they're slowing the flow of stolen cars in the Central Valley.

Analysts say their focus on chop shops and top five car thieves like Jones are reasons the city dropped on a national list that ranked Fresno as the worst city for auto theft just a year ago.

"The fact that we went from number one to number two is obviously a good direction to go, but I don't think it really talk about the success of what we've had in terms of our efforts against auto theft," said Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer.

The news may be especially good for your wallet. Insurance agent James Schweer says car thieves can cost you money without ever taking your car.

"If the theft rate in a particular zip code or where you're at is high, you're going to be affected even if you have a perfect driving record," he said.

But auto theft isn't the only consideration. Uninsured motorists and heavy traffic also play a role in your rate.

Fresno's average car insurance rate is about $1500 a year -- less than Modesto's, where the auto theft rate is now the worst in the U.S. But it's also much less than in L.A., which isn't even on the list of worst cities for car theft. And drivers in Fresno actually pay less than those in Midland, MI -- where auto theft is least likely to happen, according to the NICB.

Fresno police are working hard to keep the numbers low. They arrested more than 80 suspected car thieves in just the last month. But many of those suspects are in and out of jail the same day, and police say the root of the problem may never get addressed.

"What we continue to see is individuals who are addicted to methamphetamine who are out there stealing cars, who are using those cars to support their drug habit," Chief Dyer said.

Eight of the top ten cities with the worst auto theft rates are in California and Merced is 11th. Insurance experts say it's partly because this state has more cars and milder weather, but drugs also play a big role.

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