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Detroit’s a steal 

Motown is in the Top 10 again, and, as is often the case, the distinction is one more reason for Detroiters to sing the blues.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that assists in the fight against insurance fraud and vehicle theft, our beloved city was the tenth hottest spot for car theft in 2003. Take a dubious bow, ye thieves of Motown. And this, right around the time that Camden, N.J., knocks us off the block as most dangerous city in the United States.

NICB rates auto theft in the country’s 336 largest metropolitan areas. With 40,749 cars stolen, Detroit moves up one spot on the list; 36,723 vehicles were swiped the previous year. For the statistically inclined, we’ll note the numbers mean 905 cars are stolen for every 100,000 people living in the city.

If this hurts your civic pride, here’s a figure to soothe you. The No. 1 city for stolen cars is Modesto, Calif., with 6,016 total thefts, working out to about 1,345 vehicles yanked per 100,000 residents. According to the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance (Modesto is part of Stanislaus County) the town has an estimated 2004 population of 206,500.

Try making it there without The Club.

James Tate, second deputy chief for the Detroit Police Department, says Detroit’s figures should be put in context. According to Uniform Crime Statistics, Detroit’s 6 percent increase in stolen cars this year is less than the 8 percent jump in auto theft statewide. Asked to explain why Detroit is in the Top 10, Tate listed several reasons. “We have a high concentration of vehicles in Detroit,” he says, “but other factors may be involved, like socioeconomic issues. A lot of the time, individuals are stealing for parts. It’s a lucrative business. Also, a lot of these vehicles are coming with upgraded standard equipment — stereo systems, rims. Often, those are the first things that are stolen. At one time, you only heard about airbags being stolen.”

“Each city has its own set of circumstances,” says Frank Scafidi, the NICB’s public affairs director. “Some cities have joyriders. Some have vibrant black markets where stolen parts are sold openly.”

What makes the numbers a real drag is the impact on all the city’s drivers, not just those who find their new Explorer has gone missing. According to the Michigan Association of Insurance, a six-month insurance premium for the average adult Detroiter with a clean driving record hovers around $2,500. By comparison, similar averages in neighboring Livonia and Mt. Clemens are $1,200.

And then there’s the city’s image, which takes hits with dismal regularity. But when city leaders complain about the way national media portray Detroit, it’s a type of avoidance. The issue isn’t one of image, but rather of substance. The fact that we’re on yet another Top 10 list for such an un-stellar reason is not an image problem. It’s a problem, period.

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact this column at 313-202-8004 or

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