Car theft is something none of us wants to experience. If faced with a space where our car once was, the first thing we’d do is call the police—and hope this would either bring our car back or, failing that, discover the perpetrator and bring them to justice. Yet, an astonishing 75% of vehicle thefts are remaining unsolved as our police struggle to find the criminals responsible.

This information comes after an analysis of Home Office crime data for 44 police forces, including the British Transport Police. The study also found that the current level of vehicle theft is higher than it’s been in years.

Thieves left unpunished

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published the figures from the Home Office crime outcomes data for theft or ‘unauthorised taking’ of a motor vehicle and only 4% of cases resulted in charges or summonses being issued. Together, the 44 police forces logged 106,334 offences—the highest figure for the same period since 2009/10.

The analysis found West Midlands Police had closed 91% of recorded vehicle thefts without a suspect being identified, while the Metropolitan Police closed 85% of cases of recorded vehicle thefts for the same reason. The City of London Police were the force with the highest percentage of closed cases, at 96%. In fact, every police force except five forces closed over half of all cases without identifying a suspect.

So why are criminals responsible for three-quarters of all reported stolen cars going unpunished? Police chiefs say it’s due to an increased workload and fewer police officers, which mean they have to prioritise cases with a realistic chance of prosecution.

Criminals given ‘a green light’

The national percentage of vehicle thefts rose by 1% from the previous year to 77%. Over the same period, the number of police officers in England and Wales fell to 122,404 – the lowest number since comparable records began in 1996. Added to this challenge is the increasing number of complex and difficult offences police forces must investigate, such as rape and other violent crime.

Have car thieves become wise to not only the nation’s squeezed police resources but to modern car security, too? Simon Williams, RAC Media Relations Manager thinks so. He said:

“This is a sign that thieves have found ways around car security systems and have ways of selling vehicles on with little or no fear of being caught.

“The fact fewer suspects are being identified is very worrying and no doubt a symptom of the declining number of police officers and the resulting reduction in time that can be dedicated to investigating these crimes.”

Home Office statistics showed an overall increase in the total police workforce, but this number accounted for staff and not police officers, which decreased from the year before, along with Police Community Support Officers, special constables, and officers in ‘front-line roles’.

Labour politician Yvette Cooper MP, said:

“Too many investigations are closing without suspects being identified and we are hearing increasing reports of the police being too overstretched to investigate.

“Police forces are under immense pressure with rising serious and violent crime and changing patterns of crime alongside cuts in the numbers of officers and PCSOs. These figures suggest that investigations into volume crimes are now being hit. Failing to identify suspects gives criminals a green light to re-offend.”

Protect your property

So, if getting your vehicle back or hoping to see a thief punished is unlikely to happen, the best way to protect yourself from car theft is to work on prevention. Here are steps you can take to keep your car safe:

Double-check you’ve locked your car and beware of thieves who use ‘jammer’ devices to disrupt the signal between the fob and the car, leaving it unlocked and vulnerable to theft. You can do this by putting it in a tin box, and stow it safely in a draw.

Wherever you park, turn your car wheels, as thieves will avoid vehicles that take more effort and time to move. Use a driveway if you have one—thieves will favour cars further from houses—and always drive in rather than reverse in and out again. Try to use car parks with security patrols and/or CCTV, and park close to other cars.

To reduce the risk of carjacking in slow-moving traffic or a traffic jam, wherever possible, close your windows, lock your doors and hide any valuables.

The best way to secure your vehicle is with a tracker. Although this won’t prevent theft, it increases the chance of the car being recovered by the police. If you don’t have any car security, make fitting an immobiliser the priority. Car thieves avoid cars with visible devices and deterrents such as stickers warning of alarms and trackers. Any alarm is good but factory-fitted ones are the most secure and may also lower the cost of your car insurance.

Use a sturdy lock for the steering wheel, pedals or gearstick, and get your car’s registration number etched onto your car windows. These old-fashioned deterrents are making a comeback in our digital age.

You risk getting both a fine and your car stolen if you leave your car unattended with the engine idling. Whenever you leave the car, switch off the engine and lock the doors.

Never leave your keys unattended in public and when you’re at home, make sure your keys are out of sight and out of reach—and don’t be one 96% of motorists at risk of having their car stolen using a ‘relay attack’. Never take your keys upstairs or hide them in the bedroom though—it’s better to let a determined car thief have access to your vehicle rather than put yourself or your family at risk.

Have you ever had your car stolen? What was the outcome? What measures do you take to secure your vehicle against thieves? Tell us in the comments.

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