St. Joseph Police Chief Chris Connally wants to make it very clear. He does view the amount of car thefts in the city as an issue, but he doesn’t think national studies are the way to measure the problem.
In an interview with News-Press NOW, Connally said national studies done by the National Insurance Crime Bureau include the entire metropolitan area, which encompasses four counties. In those studies, St. Joseph has ranked among the worst metro areas in the entire nation the past two years.
“The point that I’ve made is that when you’re comparing by metropolitan area you aren’t comparing us to other cities,” Connally said. “At times I’ve heard people say, ‘We have the worst rate in Missouri,’ well no, we have a problem but fortunately we’re not as bad off as some cities.”
News-Press NOW previously reviewed data provided by the St. Joseph Police Department that showed when the auto theft rate was adjusted on a per capita basis, the city had a better rate than four other cities in Missouri.
In terms of similarly sized cities, those with populations between 50,000-99,999, St. Joseph had significantly more thefts than the next closest city.
According to the data from the Missouri Uniform Reporting Program, St. Joseph had 562 reported auto thefts in 2018. The city of O’Fallon, Missouri, has about 5,000 more people than St. Joseph but had 500 fewer car thefts.
Connally said that it isn’t necessarily fair to compare St. Joe to O’Fallon because of socioeconomic factors.
Other mid-sized cities include St. Charles, which had 155 auto thefts, Lee’s Summit, which had 179 and the rural areas of Greene County, which had 123.
“You just have to look very carefully what you’re comparing,” Connally said. “Generally, your wealthier cities have less crime and auto theft, and you don’t want to compare St. Joseph to a city like Tracy that has 236 people.”
Many larger cities like Independence, Kansas City and St. Louis had about double the amount of car thefts St. Joseph had. However, Columbia, Missouri, had 276 fewer thefts than St. Joseph.
Connally said internal police numbers indicate about 60% of auto thefts in St. Joseph follow an unlocked vehicle, a vehicle being given to another person or another ‘crime of opportunity.’ He said that estimate is derived from the last 50 to 100 auto-theft reports in the police system, gathered ahead of meetings to determine police policy.
He said a breakdown of the types of auto thefts isn’t available the same way data from the Missouri Uniform Crime Reporting Program is.
Connally credited St. Joseph’s scrap ordinance with helping to combat thefts for profit.
“They’re (those in the scrap business) actually really good to work with,” Connally said. “A lot of times they’ll call us if they suspect someone suspicious.”
“There’s some cities where they’re going after luxury cars and putting them in shipping containers for overseas,” he said. “We have not seen that.”
Connally said property crimes have higher recidivism rates than injury crimes, and that a change to Missouri’s bail rules also may be a contributing factor to auto thefts as more people could be out on bond.
To reduce the risk of having a car stolen, Connally recommended fairly simple fixes from parking in well-lit areas to using a steering-wheel or brake-pedal lock.