The holidays are traditionally a bit of a slow period for crime – though you wouldn’t know it to look at some of the headlines coming out over the festive season. According to one report, the most wonderful time of the year is also “the perfect time for crimes,” say police, with “a lot of criminals … looking to break into cars, cash in on high dollar items that you might leave hanging around.” But is it true? Or is this just another example of Americans’ well-documented criminal cognitive dissonance?
Well, unfortunately, this one is true – kind of. At the end of the year, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) publishes its semi-traditional Holiday Theft Report, documenting statistics on vehicle thefts in the previous 12 months. The most recent report did indeed find December to be one of the months in which you’re more likely to have your car stolen (or, depending on who’s reading this, more likely to steal a car).
What’s more, the Bureau consistently finds that New Year’s Day is far and away the holiday when most cars get stolen – January 1, 2019, saw about 145 more vehicles stolen than any “average” day of the year – so it seems like taking extra precautions over the new year may be a pretty good idea.
But it’s important to note that this isn’t all the report says. The festive season isn’t just some car-theft-based version of The Purge. While New Year’s Day is the holiday with the most vehicle thefts reported, it comes just a week after the day with the lowest number of reported car thefts in the entire year: Christmas. And while it’s arguably not exactly part of the holiday season, Thanksgiving took the number two spot for lowest number of vehicles stolen (the third place went to the day after 4/20, so make of that what you will.)
And although New Year’s is the holiday with the highest number of thefts, it’s pretty far from being the yearly peak: that honor went to July 1 in 2019, with 2,779 vehicles reported stolen – an increase of nearly one-seventh over the daily average for the year. The runner-up for “most vehicles stolen” day was just two weeks later, on July 15 – which, the report noted, follows a pattern seen year after year.
“Vehicle theft rates followed a similar pattern from previous years,” the report explained. “[The] highest number of thefts [occurred] over the warmer summer months and the lowest in the cold winter months.”
So why the surge on January 1? According to the NICB’s Frank Scafidi, speaking to the Orlando Sentinel in 2013, it’s probably due to that ever-present holiday ingredient: alcohol.
“People get drunk on New Year’s,” he pointed out, “and that makes many otherwise ordinary, responsible adults act like mindless morons and do things they might not do when sober.”
If he’s right, it wouldn’t be the only crime exacerbated by the increase in festive spirits – or beers, wines, and ales, for that matter. As one article notes, drink driving incidences go way up around Christmas and the new year – and so do sexual assaults and domestic violence.
“Domestic abuse charities report they see an increase in calls during the Christmas and New Year period by as much as 50 percent,” Sarah Jane Lenihan, a partner at the UK’s largest family law firm, told The Independent in November. “Alcohol-infused violence is something I hear a lot of and sadly Christmas is a time when many overindulge.”
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