Blaming a viral TikTok video for the rise in youth auto thefts, the Hennepin County attorney announced a new law-enforcement initiative to curb the trend and keep juveniles out of the legal system.
In a press conference Wednesday, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said teenage car theft became a problem after a TikTok video showing kids how to hot-wire Kias and Hyundais in as little as 90 seconds went viral in 2021.
Moriarty said she will collaborate with local law enforcement, families, and social services to intervene and thwart the rise in auto thefts.
“We cannot simply wait to prosecute crime after police make an arrest, we have a responsibility to try and prevent crime before it occurs,” Moriarty said. “For too long, law enforcement has known which kids were headed down the wrong path, but they didn’t have enough tools to intervene. No more. We must be proactive if we’re going to have a meaningful impact and improve community safety.”
Many kids involved in auto theft-related crimes are between the ages of 10 and 14, she said during the press conference. Because the crimes are difficult to prove and prosecute, police say the same kids continue to steal cars.
Moriarty said the initiative challenges the “traditional model of court-ordered intervention at the end of a charged case” and provides early opportunities for focused intervention.
“We cannot ignore early warning signs that a child is headed down the wrong path,” Moriarty said in a statement. “Youth stealing cars and driving dangerously puts lives at risk and is unacceptable. But what we adults have been doing is not enough. This initiative gets the system and community working together to help kids and families who are at risk, and to intervene early before a kid hurts themselves or someone else.”
Moriarty said the purpose of the new initiative is not to expand and bring youth into the system but to keep them out.
“We are hoping to provide interventions for youth who are involved in this behavior who may not be able to be charged, and frankly we don’t want them to be charged,” she said. “We know that when youth come into the delinquency system as young as 10, 11, 12, they are often found legally incompetent to proceed. And we don’t want youth to have records.”
Under the new initiative, the county attorney’s office and law enforcement agencies will hold regular meetings to identify youth in need of intervention, then social workers will initiate family contact to connect families with resources. The attorney’s office and court system plan to speed up charging decisions and dates on car theft-related cases.
The new initiative will also include a special hotline that families can call to get emotional support between the hours of 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.
Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.