For the first time since 2000, five Bay Area cities with a population of at least 100,000 made the FBI's Top 10 list of auto thefts per capita in the nation in 2012, the Oakland Tribune reported Tuesday.
Richmond and Oakland placed No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, and Vallejo, Antioch and Hayward were also among the Top 10, the data released by the FBI this month indicate.
Bakersfield was the highest-ranking California city outside the Bay Area at No. 15 and San Joe was at No. 16 with a staggering 71 percent jump from 2011 to last year, the newspaper said.
Scholars and police said they're not sure what caused the spike, though Steven Block, a professor who studies auto theft at Central Connecticut State University, suspects organized criminal groups are involved.
"The first thing that would come to mind is maybe one or two groups are doing this. You wouldn't think that all of a sudden you had a cultural shift toward joy riding," he said.
Others suspect police cutbacks are to blame, or a new California law known as realignment that releases non-violent criminals from prison early.
"The types of crimes that folks are getting realigned back into the community for ... are the ones more likely to include stealing cars," said Mountain View police Lt. Jessica Nowaski, who heads the auto theft task force in Santa Clara County.