Property Crime Rates and Motor Vehicle Theft in Eastern Massachusetts Cities

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An article published in May by WBUR shined a light on the recent rise in catalytic converter theft (a part of the exhaust system in cars and trucks) across Massachusetts. This raises the question of whether property crime, and more specifically motor vehicle theft, is increasing in Massachusetts especially in Boston, Lowell, and Worcester, the three largest cities in the eastern half of the commonwealth.

Contrary to what the catalytic converter thieves may have you believe, overall property crime in these three Massachusetts cities has dropped dramatically since 2010. According to Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis website, Boston, the commonwealth’s largest city, had 3,203 property crimes per 100,000 of the population in 2010. In 2020, the most recent year available on the MassAnalysis database, Boston had 1,866 property crimes per 100,000. From 2010 to 2020 property crime decreased by 41.72 percent in Boston. It was not the only city to see such a large decrease in property crime, in Lowell it decreased by 57.75 percent, and in Worcester it decreased by 41.26 percent from 2010 to 2020. 

Figure 1: Boston’s Property and Violent Crime Rates 2004-2020. Source: Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis Website.

So, it appears that in the past decade these three eastern Massachusetts cities have become safer than ever before, at least when it comes to one’s property. 

Although a catalytic converter is only one part of a vehicle, motor vehicle theft statistics (which are a part of the larger property crime category) for Boston, Lowell, and Worcester present some interesting trends. Overall, the percentages of decrease in motor vehicle theft in these cities are almost congruent with general property crime decreases. From 2010 to 2020 Boston saw a 37.16 percent, Lowell a 44.83 percent, and Worcester a 24.62 percent decrease in vehicle theft. Boston was the only city of the three that motor vehicle theft decreased every year until 2020 which could be due to its larger police force. In Lowell, vehicle theft increased from 2012 to 2015 and in Worcester it increased in 2015 and 2019.  One year that is interesting to note is that both Worcester and Lowell saw increases in motor vehicle theft in 2016. More importantly, all three major eastern Massachusetts cities saw increases in 2020; the height of the pandemic and a year full of political turmoil. That was also the first time Boston saw motor vehicle theft increase in almost 10 years. 

Figure 2: Boston, Lowell, and Worcester Motor Vehicle Theft Rates 2010-2020. Source: Pioneer Institute’s MassAnalysis Website.

One may speculate as to why motor vehicle theft specifically increases in one year over another. In a statement noted in the WBUR article included a comment on the rise of catalytic converter thefts, the National Insurance Crime Bureau said “There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drives these thefts.” Although overall property crime rates are still lower than prior to 2010, all three of those factors were present in 2020, which may provide some understanding as to why motor vehicle theft increased in Boston, Lowell, and Worcester in 2020.

Mitchell Bove is a Roger Perry Government Transparency Intern at the Pioneer Institute for Summer 2022. He is a rising junior at Suffolk University with a major in U.S. History and minors in Media & Film.