DATA: Auto theft happens across Austin — 8% of cases ended in arrest

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Danielle Paez has a name for whoever stole her car, smashed the windows, and dumped it in Pflugerville, leaving fast food wrappers all over the front seat.

“My thief, the booger face,” she said.

Her north Austin neighbor woke her up early on a Saturday morning in September to tell her the car was gone.

“Just glass, that’s it, that’s all that was left of my car,” she told us at the time.

She’s grateful police recovered her car, but that was just the beginning. “Then I get my car back, and the damage to my car was so severe,” she said.

  • Vasquez woke up one morning to find the window to his car broken and on the ground
  • Shattered glass in the drivers seat of Paez car
  • Thieves also broke the rear view mirror when stealing Paez car
  • Someone stripped the steering wheel from Danielle Paez car
  • According to 311 both of Vasquez cases are closed 1
  • Danielle Paez said shes working with police to get justice after her car was stolen 1

It was also just the beginning in another sense.

“I get woken up again, and the car was broken into again,” Paez said.

Paez put a club on her steering wheel to lock it to prevent it from getting stolen again. She said that didn’t stop a thief from trying again — even after also parking her car in the backyard behind her fence.

Police have not yet found the person responsible.

Across town, in south Austin, Javier Vasquez dealt with something similar. No one stole his car, but they tried twice, smashing the windows and stripping part of the steering wheel. The attempts left him with a rental car and an insurance nightmare that the father of two is juggling while working two jobs.

“It’s a little rough, I’m not going to lie,” he said.

According to Austin 311, police closed both of Vasquez’s cases. Vasquez said his case ran into difficulties because there were no witnesses or surveillance video. The crimes happened at his gated apartment complex on William Cannon Drive, and he hopes anyone around has seen something that could open his case back up.

“Until someone’s caught, it’s like we have to be on high alert,” he said. “We can still live our lives, but there’s always something that’s like ‘What if I go to sleep too early or I go to sleep at the wrong time and it happens again?'”

APD said detectives often have to suspend cases because of a lack of eyewitnesses or video to identify the suspects.

Auto theft in Austin, a numbers breakdown

From Jan. 1, 2022, to Oct. 5, 2023, the Austin Police Department investigated 10,234 cases of auto theft, according to data obtained through an open records request. The infographic below highlights what we found.

Auto theft fact infographic
Source: APD | (KXAN Graphic/Brianna Hollis)

In about 75% of cases, police recovered stolen vehicles. But that doesn’t mean the cases ended with an arrest. APD cleared 809 of the 10,234 cases with an arrest, averaging out to just under 8%.

“Just for them to catch them would be awesome,” Vasquez said about his case. “It would give everyone peace of mind.”

In a statement, APD said the state consistently has some of the most cases of auto theft in the country.

In Austin, many suspects are teens who receive little-to-no sentence, allowing them to continually re-offend, APD said.

Auto theft is happening in all different parts of the city. The map, created with APD data, below shows locations that had at least 20 reports of auto theft from January 2022 to October 2023.

The highest amount of auto thefts was at Barton Creek Square Mall, followed by two airport parking lots, two U-haul locations near Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 290, and various apartment complexes throughout the city.

Map with auto theft locations
According to police data, locations had 20 or more reports of auto theft from Jan. 1, 2022 to Oct. 5, 2023. (KXAN Graphic)

“We have noted an influx of auto thefts citywide with no particular area that seems to be more targeted than others,” APD said. “APD is constantly monitoring the situation and sharing public safety announcements to educate the community on preventing these types of crimes.”

The report also showed people are stealing cars at all times of the day, with about half occurring during daylight hours.

APD said daylight auto thefts often happen when people leave their cars running and/or unattended with the keys inside.

Below is a monthly breakdown of auto theft cases over 21 months.

APD efforts to curb these crimes

“The unit regularly conducts operations in an effort to apprehend those committing auto theft while still working cases routed through the queue,” APD said in an email statement. “In addition to utilizing APD resources, unit members regularly work with investigators from surrounding agencies to include DPS and Travis County in an effort to prevent and deter auto theft related crimes in Austin utilizing their resources.”

The statement goes on to mention how the department assists agencies in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas in stopping organized crime groups.

APD is also working with a specialized unit in the Department of Motor Vehicles to prevent auto theft and arrest suspects more quickly.

How much does insurance cover if your car gets stolen?

According to the Insurance Council of Texas, the amount of money you would get reimbursed for a stolen car depends on your type of insurance. You need to have a full police report before you can begin the process.

If you have comprehensive coverage, “your insurance company would estimate damage and you can send the car for an estimate at a body shop of your choosing. If the car is repairable, the insurance company would pay for the damages. If the car is determined to be ‘totaled’ then the insurance company would pay you the estimated value of the auto,” Insurance Council’s Director of Communications Richard Johnson said.

To get insurance help with your rental car, your coverage has to include “Rental Car Reimbursement,” which, according to Johnson, “is usually limited to a dollar amount per day with a maximum total amount per claim.”

To access your rental car compensation, Johnson said you make a claim that includes the police report about the stolen car, and your insurance will then typically work with you to set up your rental car.

He recommends filing a police report as soon as possible to make this process move quickly.

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