The number of vehicles reported stolen in Calaveras County last year jumped more than 50 percent over 2010, despite a slight decrease in overall thefts reported statewide.
Vehicle thefts in Tuolumne County also increased, but at a lower rate than Calaveras.
California Highway Patrol in San Andreas received 94 stolen vehicle reports last year, up 56.7 percent over 2010 when the number of vehicles stolen was 60, according to newly-released statistics.
It’s the largest increase seen by any county in the state, followed by San Luis Obispo County, where vehicle thefts spiked by 44 percent.
“There’s really no rhyme or reason to it,” said San Andreas CHP Officer Rebecca Myers. “Some people chalk it up to the economy.”
In Tuolumne County, the number of vehicle thefts increased 14.1 percent from 78 in 2010 to 89 last year.
Meanwhile, overall numbers for the state slightly decreased, from 158,883 stolen vehicles in 2010 to 156,796 last year.
Myers said so far this year, there have been 65 reported vehicle thefts in Calaveras County, with 23 of those located and returned to owners.
She said most cars are typically found and returned.
Across the state, 84.9 percent of vehicles reported stolen in 2011 were recovered, Myers said.
“Some people take the car and strip it for money, but I would say about 80 percent of our car thefts up here are just joy rides,” she said.
Myers said most vehicle thefts are crimes of opportunity and advised residents to refrain from leaving their cars running unattended outside their homes to warm them up on cold mornings.
Sonora CHP Officer Nick Norton said similar incidents are occasionally reported in Tuolumne County during the winter months as well.
“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “Somebody happens to be walking by and just takes the car.”
Despite the close proximity between the two counties, Norton said it’s rare for vehicles stolen out of one to be recovered in the other.
He said the CHP office in Sonora has been conducting educational campaigns in recent years to remind area residents to secure their vehicles and help drive down the number of thefts, which he partially attributed as a factor keeping incidents in Tuolumne County relatively low compared to other counties.
Myers and Norton both noted that neither county has a special task force dedicated to investigating vehicle thefts and recovering stolen vehicles, such as the Stanislaus County Auto Theft Taskforce, also known as StanCATT.
The multi-agency team was formed in 2008 to combat the rising number of vehicle thefts in Stanislaus County.
According to the CHP statistics, Stanislaus County saw 10.5 percent less thefts reported in 2011, dropping from 3,743 stolen vehicles in 2010 to 3,350.
Myers said task forces are effective methods for reducing crime, but it’s unlikely a similar type of operation focused on vehicle theft could be established in a smaller county such as Calaveras.
“We don’t really have the volume of stolen cars or the manpower up here for a task force,” she said. “It’s also not a certain area that’s getting hit, it’s all over the county.”