More cars were reported stolen in the first sixteen weeks of 2023 than in any single year from 2012 to 2019, according to data released by the Philadelphia Police Department.
According to the latest data set, 6,334 cars have been reported stolen as of April 16.
For comparison, only 5,980 and 5,862 cars were reported stolen in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
When just comparing the first sixteen weeks of this year to the same period in 2022, auto thefts are up a whopping 80 percent. That statistic deserves additional context given that last year’s thefts were a record-setting total, so any increase over that year means Philly’s auto theft problems are continuing to increase at a staggering rate.
If the current pace continues, Philadelphia could see more than 20,000 auto thefts this year.
Prosecutions, meanwhile, have not kept up.
Data posted at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s website, when analyzed against PPD’s data, shows the percentage of car theft cases prosecuted has been on a steady decline.
About sixteen percent of car thefts were prosecuted in 2019, the last year that percentage was in the double digits. By 2022, that figure dropped to 7.6 percent.
PPD and Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office did not return requests for comment.
The core problem of an increase in thefts doesn’t appear to be unique to Philadelphia, however. For example, Los Angeles has seen remarkable year-over-year increases, and expects to handle more car thefts in 2023 than last year. Chicago, Cleveland, and Denver are other cities that have also seen car thefts double in the last three years.
Other cities like Portland have seen a surge which has now begun to abate. Baltimore’s rate of auto thefts has more or less held steady since 2019, according to data compiled by USA Facts.
Social media trends have exacerbated some aspects of the problem. A Tik Tok video sparked a wave of thefts attempted on Hyundai and Kias after the video explained how to steal those cars with little more than a screwdriver and USB cable.
“Kia and Hyundai saw nearly 800% and 400% respective spikes in theft reports [in Philadelphia from 2019 to 2022], buoyed by the rise of the Kia Boyz Challenge,” the Inquirer reported.
Other numbers from the “week 16” data set from Philadelphia Police do show some encouraging trends. Homicides, as well as gun robberies and gun assaults, are all down by more than ten percent.
The other concerning category continues to be retail theft, which is up 42 percent over last year.
Last month, District Attorney Larry Krasner told city officials he needed $7 million to combat that increase along with carjackings.
But in doing so, Krasner also pointed a finger at many retailers.
“[Krasner] said stores are not using private security or stopping people for minor thefts and asked, ‘why some of them would take videos of people leaving rather than stop them,’” according to a report from WHYY. “He said police cannot go after retail theft when they don’t have the personnel to deal with the crime that is going on in retail establishments.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports