New study ranks Washington among top three states with most car thefts


Since Washington state policies for law enforcement, including car chases, were updated in 2021 legislation, popular speculation has posited that crime rates could go up as a consequence. In those three years, multiple studies have been released regarding vehicle-related crime in Washington state.

The latest study, this time by Simmrin Law Group, analyzes FBI data to determine which states had the most car thefts in 2022. Using the Crime Data Explorer, the number of vehicle thefts per every 100,000 people in each state was ranked.

Washington took second place for states with worst car theft, sandwiched between first place Colorado and third place Oregon.

States with the most car thefts

According to the Simmrin Law Group, Colorado had the most car thefts in 2022. In total, there were 45,883 cases of motor vehicle theft in the state, which equates to 786 per 100,000 people.

"FBI data also shows that 2.52% of its total arrests in 2022 were from motor thefts, the highest percentage of any state for the crime," Michael Simmrin of Simmrin Law Group states in a press release about the analysis.

Washington was first runner-up, with 49,777 thefts in 2022, or 639 per 100,000 people. Third place went to Oregon, with less than half as many thefts as Washington, at 552 thefts per 100,000 people.

The remaining top 10 were:

  • New Mexico
  • Nevada
  • Missouri
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

New Hampshire had the fewest car thefts, with just 67 per 100,00 and 928 total in 2022.

The same data from the FBI was used in a recent WalletHub study to determine the best and worst states to drive in. The WalletHub study looked at 31 metrics, including car theft rates. Incidentally, Washington was ranked the second-worst state to drive in.

Reasons for Washington car thefts

So, why is car theft such a prevalent issue in Washington? Sergeant Jeffrey Carroll with the Lakewood Police Department leads the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task Force, and he says it's difficult to answer exactly why.

There are many reasons why auto theft has increased in recent years, but Washington has had a high rate for decades, and there are several potential causes.

"We were always on the high side," Carroll said in an interview with McClatchy. "But there was a significant change when the legislation went into effect."

This isn't solely because of the restrictions on policing, according to Carroll. The legislation followed protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in 2020, and Carroll says attitude changed in departments. Around that time, departments lost a lot of street cops and pulled back on proactive policing.

On top of that, COVID-19 hit the states soon after, and the criminal justice system was impacted. Jails had booking restrictions throughout the pandemic, and many wouldn't take property crime offenders. Carroll says people were caught for multiple thefts during the course of the pandemic, but were inevitably let go.

COVID also caused a court backlog, which was exacerbated by all the cases sent to courts due to booking restrictions.

Carroll says all this and more occurring in a short time lead to a dramatic increase in auto theft rates from pre-pandemic to now.

But in an analysis of car thefts by state from 1990 through 2020 per 100,000 people, Washington ranked among the top 10. Carroll's anecdotal explanation based on three decades in the field is that a combination of factors contribute to the car theft culture in Washington. He thinks accountability, funding and population all play a part.

To protect yourself, Carroll recommends fully insuring your car, not just getting the required liability insurance. If you're insured for car theft, you can greater protect yourself in the event your car is stolen.