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Statement: “It wasn’t long ago that we were No. 3 in the nation for car thieves and now we’re down to 15,” District Attorney and mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis said during a Fox 5 interview Sept. 15.

Determination: True

Analysis: In September, Dumanis announced 33 indictments following a six-month undercover investigation. The felony charges included vehicle theft, burglary, stolen property and weapons violations, and she touted the case as example of local law enforcement’s crackdown on car thieves.

“It wasn’t long ago that we were No. 3 in the nation for car thieves and now we’re down to 15,” Dumanis said. “They’re doing their jobs.”

The rankings she cited accurately reflect a study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit dedicated to fighting insurance fraud. Once a year, the organization takes a snapshot of stolen car reports and compares metropolitan areas across the country.

In 2007, the organization found that vehicle thefts only happened more often in Las Vegas and Modesto, Calif. than San Diego. Last year, it found thefts occurred more often in 14 other places.

But what’s particularly interesting about the ranking is the data source. The organization has special access to a law enforcement database of stolen vehicle reports. It’s not the same publicly available data that law enforcement officials like Dumanis most often cite to describe crime trends.

The public database shows a similar decline of vehicle theft in recent years but doesn’t portray San Diego as once being a standout in the national picture. Its ranking fell from 8th to 27th in the last three years.

Why different rankings? Though the two databases are similar, they don’t cover the exact same timeframe or receive reports from all the same agencies.

Try to think of crime totals like pictures. They describe what police know at one moment in time and new information can change the snapshot. A person may report a stolen car one day but then police find out the car wasn’t actually stolen a week later.

The two databases represent two different snapshots in time. The organization took its picture of stolen vehicle reports in May this year. The publicly available data was reported at the end of last year.

Secondly, not all law enforcement agencies provide crime information for the public database, which can affect area totals. Participation is voluntary. More agencies do, however, use the other database to report stolen vehicles. That one’s a real-time database that police across the country use to figure out whether a vehicle’s been reported stolen.

However, these variations don’t take away the accuracy of Dumanis’ statement, which mirrors the rankings reported by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. That’s why we’ve rated the statement True.

The different rankings don’t change the downward trend Dumanis described. San Diego area law enforcement reported 408 stolen vehicles per 100,000 residents last year or about half as many as three years earlier.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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