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Area takes fourth spot for auto thefts
Stanislaus County #4 in nation
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The Modesto metropolitan region, which includes Ceres and the surrounding area, has fallen from the top spot in the nation for auto thefts. However, it didn't fall very far.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau's recent Hot Spot report on the top areas in the nation for vehicle thefts ranked the Modesto area fourth for 2016. Last year, the area was at the top of the list.

For 2016, the Modesto region had 3,820 reported auto thefts, which is down from the 4,072 reported in 2015, which earned the top spot.

The Merced metropolitan area was ranked as the region with the seventh highest number of auto thefts in the nation. The area had 1,622 reported vehicle thefts in 2016, according to the NICB.

Laying claim to the top spot for auto thefts in the nation is Albuquerque, New Mexico, which had more than 10,000 reported vehicle thefts over the 2016 year.

Four other metropolitan areas in California made the top 10 on the list.

According to the NICB's data, vehicle owners could be doing more to help curb thefts in their communities. The NICB found that for the years 2013 through 2015, a total of 147,434 vehicles were reported stolen with the keys left in them - 57,096 in 2015 alone.

"With the debut of ‘smart keys' in 1997 and all of the improved anti-theft technology since, it is worthless if drivers continue to leave their keys in the car or leave their vehicles running, unattended, while they make a quick stop at a convenience store," said NICB spokesperson Frank Scafidi in a news release.

Hot Spots examines vehicle theft data obtained from the National Crime Information Center for each of the nation's metropolitan statistical area. MSAs are designated by the Office of Management and Budget and often include areas much larger than the cities for which they are named.

As a population-based survey, an area with a much smaller population and a moderate number of thefts can - and often does - have a higher theft rate than an area with a much more significant vehicle theft problem and a larger population to absorb it. Which is how Billings, Montana, with 877 thefts, places 10th while Los Angeles, with 60,670 thefts places 35th.

Each year the FBI releases preliminary Uniform Crime Report (UCR) data for the previous year's January-June time frame. When the preliminary 2016 crime data was released earlier this year, vehicle theft was up 6.6 percent across the nation. That increase is expected to hold when the final UCR 2016 crime data is published in the fall.