Auto Thefts Skyrocket in Cities Across the United States
Auto Thefts Skyrocket in Cities Across the United States

By Bryan Jung

According to a new crime report, car robberies have skyrocketed in dozens of cities across the United States in the first half of 2023.

The Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) released its “Crime Trends in U.S. Cities: Mid-Year 2023 Update” on July 20, which examines monthly crime rates for ten violent, property, and drug offenses in 37 American cities.

The latest report updates and supplements previous U.S. crime trends studies by the CCJ with additional crime data through June 2023 and also shows how online fads worsen real-world crime trends.

Not all of the 37 cities in the study reported data for each offense, and the data used to measure the crime trends are subject to revision by local jurisdictions, said the CCJ.

The results of the study underscore how American crime patterns have changed since 2020.

The CCJ called motor vehicle theft a “keystone crime,” which is a violation “that facilitates the commission of homicide and other offenses,” in a July 20 press release.

Motor Vehicle Theft Spikes Dramatically Since 2020

Out of the 32 cities providing crime data, seven saw rates surge by 100 percent or more compared to last year.

The average rate of monthly motor vehicle thefts rose and fell cyclically from January 2018 to March 2020 in the 32 cities providing data.

According to a chart provided by the CCJ, there were 86.6 car thefts per 100,000 people from January 2018 to June 2023.

Car losses rose and fell with seasonal fluctuations through April of 2022 but then increased dramatically in the summer and fall of that year.

At the end of 2022, there were 26.6 percent more motor vehicle thefts than in 2021 and 67.5 percent more than in 2019.

The number of motor vehicle thefts in the 32 cities was 33.5 percent higher than average, at 23,974 offenses, during the first half of 2023 than in the first half of last year, according to the report.

Auto thefts in June 2023 were 104.3 percent higher compared to the first half of 2019, the year before the pandemic and the BLM riots.

Rochester, New York, saw the largest increase in vehicle thefts in the first half of 2023, rising 355 percent, while St. Paul, Minnesota, saw the biggest drop at 41 percent.

TikTok Challenge Leads to Wave of Stolen Kias and Hyundais

The CCJ said that “much of this increase is the result of thefts of Kia and Hyundai models” but noted that rates were already rising before those brands became popular targets.

However, the CCJ admitted that it could not “directly confirm that Kias and Hyundais are the most targeted” based on their data, report co-author Ernesto Lopez told Axios.

Kia and Hyundai thefts have surged across the United States this year after a popular TikTok challenge encouraged and showed potential thieves how to steal the cars.

The TikTok social media challenge encourages users to steal vehicles by breaking into the car and removing part of the steering wheel column, and then starting it with a USB cable, reported CNBC.

TikTok told the Washington Post in a statement that it “Does not condone this behavior which violates our policies and will be removed if found on our platform.”

Hyundai and Kia released new anti-theft software for 8.3 million vehicles in the United States in February in response to the car thefts, which requires the key to be in the ignition to turn the car on, the NHTSA said in a press release.

He did say that “many jurisdictions have filed suit against these manufacturers, citing extremely large increases in vehicle thefts.”

“It all started with this TikTok challenge, and it just grew from there, and now it’s just common knowledge,” Capt. Jason Smith, head of the Philadelphia Police Department’s major crimes unit, told Axios.

Capt. Smith said that his department believes that juveniles were behind the “overwhelming majority” of car thefts.

Kias and Hyundais are typically not targets for carjackings because they’re so easy to steal, the police captain continued.

Non-Violent Crime Rises Nationwide With the Exception of Car Theft

According to the study, most violent offenses rose in 2020 and 2021 but then began trending downward.

Property and drug crimes were more mixed, with many offenses remaining below or around pre-2020 levels, but motor vehicle theft was a key exception.

Although car thefts are increasing nationwide, homicides and other violent crimes are down in the first half of 2023.

Many of these same crimes are also interconnected.

“The overwhelming majority of vehicle thefts are associated with another crime. This would include both violent and property crimes, including selling stolen vehicles,” Lopez told Axios.

“The decline we see across the major crime categories is encouraging, but our country should not be comfortable with rates of violence that continue to claim thousands of lives each year,” said University of Missouri, St. Louis Professor Emeritus Richard Rosenfeld, co-author of the CCJ study.

“We now have a solid array of research-backed crime prevention tools at our disposal. Law enforcement, policymakers, and communities should redouble efforts to deploy them.”

The authors of the report said they were reexamining crime trends at the end of 2023 for a more comprehensive picture of crime patterns post-pandemic.

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