Chicago car thefts reach record highs, data investigation reveals

ByChuck Goudie and Barb Markoff, Christine Tressel and Maggie Green WLS logo
Thursday, May 25, 2023
Chicago car thefts reach record highs, data shows
Chicago car thefts are happening at a record high speed according to I-Team analysis of data from the Chicago Police Department.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- New data obtained by the ABC7 I-Team reveals that Chicago car thefts are happening at record high speed. Crime experts say they boom is only partially explained by social media videos showing how some models can be hotwired.

A recent report by the Council on Criminal Justice found motor vehicle thefts were up more than 20% percent in 2022 compared to 2021 in Chicago and dozens of other major cities.

The most recent data reveals an even greater more recent surge.

"I love my car. It's terrible," said car theft victim Victor Marca.

Marca's older 2000 Mazda has been taken five times from outside his Garfield Park home. While the car is older, Marca said it still ran well and had a lot of sentimental value.

"I cannot do nothing. I'm very sad. I'm very sad," he said.

Across town, in the Albany Park area, security cameras captured a different heist in progress in December 2022, when thieves broke into a repair shop full of high-end vehicles.

"They just overpowered the locks by having like six or seven guys jimmy the door," said Eddie Zipperstein, owner of Richard's Body Shop. "They went across the street and started running, picking out cars from a lot and drove through the fence."

Zipperstein said most of the cars were recovered by his employees, who found them abandoned in various neighborhoods.

Since then he's invested in souped-up security. But just this week a thief managed to cut through a thick metal lock, gain access to an outdoor lot and make off with a Kia. That car was at the shop for repairs from another theft. He said his shop has been busy fixing up cars that have been stolen across the city.

"A lot of Infiniti and Nissan dealers send the car here and were doing their theft recoveries for customers and the dealerships themselves that were hit," Zipperstein said.

Marca was able to eventually track down his car, also abandoned in various places in the city, but in April he said it was so damaged he had to sell it for scrap.

An I-Team data analysis based on Chicago police numbers shows automobile thefts in the city have increased more than 70% in the last 12 months compared to the yearly average for 2020-2022.

There have been more than 20,000 cars stolen in Chicago from May 2022 to May 2023.

Eugene Roy, retired Chief of Detectives for CPD, isn't surprised by the crimes.

"It's an easy way to make money. There's a lot of cars, There's a couple of brands that are rather low end and their locking systems are compromised easily," he said.

He said thefts started increasing during pandemic, driven partly by supply chain issues and the value of cars overall, and including parts such as catalytic converters, on the black market.

"Also you have cars that are being used by narcotics dealers, gang members to go about you know their activities, whether it's selling drugs or engaging in acts of violence or other crimes," Roy said.

The data analysis shows the majority of the thefts happen on the city's South and West Sides including the neighborhoods of Austin, South Shore, Near West Side, Chatham and Roseland.

Years ago the I-Team traveled to Poland to report on a pipeline of stolen cars where they found hundreds of cars sitting in dealer lots in Warsaw with Chicago dealer stickers.

"There's still a lot of that going on too," Roy said.

Some crime experts blame the spike in car thefts on social media videos detailing how to steal vulnerable models of Kias and Hyundais, but our research as of March showed those cars only accounted for about 40% of the thefts over the past year. Other top car models targeted for theft in Chicago were Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Jeep.

Police staffing and manpower is also affecting the rate of stolen cars, which are in essence a property crime.

"To be perfectly candid? The violent crimes take priority, for example a car that is taken in a carjack at gunpoint is going to be investigated first and more thoroughly than auto theft," said Roy.

Marca is still upset about the loss of his car. He claims repeated calls and reports to the Chicago Police Department went nowhere, even when a hidden air tag tracked his vehicle moving on the North Side.

"They said 'we're not going to do nothing because car is moving," he said.

Many residents may not know it but CPD policy prohibits pursuit of a simple auto theft.

Marca spent days in court fighting parking tickets, red light and speeding tickets, and unpaid tolls he said were racked up by the thieves. He said that cost him time and money.

Despite various inquiries the Chicago Police Department did not respond to I-Team questions about the spike in thefts, instead sending copies of CPD theft policies.

Hyundai and Kia recently reached a settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit prompted by a surge in vehicle thefts across the country.