Liz Collin Reports: Go undercover with carjacking unit for firsthand look at Twin Cities crime

Alpha News gained exclusive access to ride along on three different shifts with one team that's focused on turning things around.

Liz Collin rides along with Deputy Joe Kill of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office.

“I was carjacked at gunpoint,” Becky, who didn’t want us to use her last name, told Alpha News.

“Crime is just out of control,” she added.

The crimes have played out in parking lots and driveways across the Twin Cities, leaving behind hundreds of victims.

617 carjackings were reported in Minneapolis last year alone — 101 in St. Paul — along with a trail of thousands of stolen cars spread across the suburbs.

They have been brazenly taken in broad daylight as homeowners and neighbors can only watch.

One team fights back

Alpha News gained exclusive access to ride along on three different shifts with one team that’s focused on turning things around — as calls for safety from all sides get louder.

Ramsey County’s Carjacking Auto Theft or CAT team is at the start of its shift.

“The last page has some good addresses. We will cover those,” Sgt. Rich Alteri said at the beginning of the briefing.

Sgt. Rich Alteri and members of Ramsey County’s CAT team sit down for a meeting at the beginning of a recent shift.

It’s when members pour over a list of the day’s stolen cars.

“By the time I woke up and started monitoring my phone and came to work, in about a two-hour period there was at least nine,” Deputy Joe Kill said.

Deputy Kill has been a part of the unit since its start in September.

On patrol, he constantly runs license plates throughout Minnesota’s smallest and most densely populated county. All with the goal of finding stolen vehicles.

We’re with Deputy Kill just minutes before one is located in a back alley in St. Paul.

“We are going to Case Avenue, looks like it’s for an unoccupied stolen,” he explained.

It’s where we meet Dennis who noticed it was gone in the morning when he needed to leave for work.

Liz joins Deputy Kill as they locate a stolen vehicle in a St. Paul alleyway.

“Went outside and the car that was supposed to be in the spot wasn’t there,” Dennis said.

Dennis discovered his catalytic converter had been cut off.

Whoever took his Honda had it an hour before dumping it some 20 miles from his house in Fridley.

“It’s ridiculous. People have to have better things to do,” he added.

Soon after, Deputy Kill finds a stolen SUV just a few miles away.

“I got an unoccupied stolen off of Hoyt,” Deputy Kill said into his radio.

Its tires were stolen and windows smashed.

“The vehicle was stolen outside in St. Paul on 1/30,” Deputy Kill explained while other deputies worked to track who took these latest cars.

In the five months since forming their unit, they’ve found teenagers are mostly responsible.

“It was just the sheriff’s vision to put it with us, hit the ground running and look at these kids we’d been following already,” Sgt. Alteri told us.

Sgt. Alteri explained how a state grant is behind their work, bringing two investigators and a prosecutor together to work with the intelligence unit to finally pull the puzzle apart.

“When the auto theft grant came along, we were able to put a full-time investigator into the role of working with the county attorney’s office and one working with community outreach. The kids who are the most prolific, we know them well. We know their family structure; we’ve contacted their guardians. We’ve arrested them several times,” Sgt. Alteri said.

Ramsey County has identified 20 kids as the core group behind most carjackings and auto thefts in the area.

The unit’s unconventional maneuvers to box them in while they’re behind the wheel have paid off.

“We do not chase. We have unmarked cars. We try to blend in and watch a stolen car until it does go somewhere we can safely converge and arrest whoever is driving,” Sgt. Alteri said.

“Usually, when we do this they jump out of the car and start fleeing on foot, or we have been rammed several times and crackled up several squads because of it,” Deputy Kill said.

Just as they did in one case that Deputy Kill walked us through. They boxed in two teenagers who bailed.

“A loaded handgun fell out of his waistband onto the ground and then we apprehended him within a few feet after that. One was 14 and one was 16 and they have loaded guns and they’re in a stolen car,” Deputy Kill explained.

A carjacker’s mother shares her story

Tisha is candid about her son’s story. He started stealing cars at the age of 10.

“He says he does it for the thrill,” she told us.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said he’s been on their radar the entire time.

We are not using last names since he is a juvenile.

“I’ve chased him several times myself, so have the Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies,” Sheriff Fletcher told us.

Tisha’s son is 14 now and incarcerated again just days after his mom did what she could to keep his movements monitored.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher and Tisha sit down for an interview with Liz Collin.

“I begged the probation officer: please don’t let my son off this bracelet because I’m not comfortable. Please don’t, and she said I have to because that’s what the judge ordered,” Tisha said.

“Part of it is because the justice system hasn’t taken young kids seriously. They continue to put them back at home. In her case, that’s what happened. They would keep releasing him back to her care and she would say, ‘Hey, I need help. I need someone to give him a timeout, get him the proper programming, the proper medication. Just sending him back home to me isn’t going to change his behavior,’” Fletcher said.

“We are struggling figuring out how to help these kids, but the judges are releasing children back to home or halfway houses because they do not have options,” Sheriff Fletcher added.

Sheriff Fletcher says options are limited following a movement to close juvenile correctional facilities in the Twin Cities.

“Boys Totem Town closed, but they never constructed the facility in Richfield because some activists were against it so now we really have limited facilities,” he said.

“You have to go to the root of it. My son just didn’t wake up and want to start carjacking,” Tisha added.

Tisha believes six months of intense treatment covering addiction and mental health could make a difference.

“My son told a therapist, ‘I learned how to carjack by playing Grand Theft Auto.’ That is serious,” she said.

“We know in the game you get points for stealing cars. The nicer the better, and we know now from interviewing these kids they’ve done the same thing in real life,” Sheriff Fletcher said.

Crime Watch Minneapolis speaks out

The popular public safety advocate turned citizen journalist behind Crime Watch Minneapolis agreed to speak out for this story if we concealed their identity.

“People started becoming angry. The always-offended crowd started becoming angry about what I was posting because facts would come out that they didn’t want to hear, that they didn’t want to face about who is committing crime, the revolving door that people support. There are a lot of people who don’t want people to go to prison or be punished for crimes that happen,” Crime Watch said.

Crime Watch has more than 300,000 followers across social media.

They push out real-time information from scanners and other sources.

They have been tracking carjackings and auto thefts for years while calling out what they call a lax criminal justice system from judges on down.

“My goal is just to share information. I’ve been angry about the lack of information put out by officials, by police, by the media. I already knew the media wasn’t covering everything, but after I started doing this I realized the media is covering a tiny, tiny fraction of what really happens. People deserve to know, they need to know what’s going on in their neighborhoods,” Crime Watch said.

“People are always shocked when they see these people revolving through the door and I’ll post about a guy arrested for stealing a vehicle and they’re like, ‘Oh, that guy is going to prison,’ and I’m like, ‘No, he is not. He’s going to steal eight more vehicles,'” Crime Watch added.

‘I was carjacked at gunpoint’ 

Becky didn’t want us to use her last name after what happened at a Target parking lot in Burnsville in 2020.

“I’m still in my car, still looking at my phone. Basically, a gentleman comes up. I don’t even know what he said. I have a gun pressed to my head,” Becky said.

The struggle to surrender her car left her bruised. Police caught the man with a lengthy record, Dustin Mcleod, using Becky’s credit cards at Mall of America.

“I have panic attacks, PTSD, you’re agitated, you don’t want to be alone in public parking lots. You don’t sleep, constantly on guard,” Becky said.

Mcleod did drugs in her jeep and left it trashed in the one day he had it. He’ll spend the next few years in prison.

“Crime is just out of control,” Becky added.

“Now you’re traumatized for life. Now the world is a scarier place than it was. We can’t fix that, but we can try to get that person into custody,” Sgt. Alteri said.

Just as Ramsey County’s CAT team has so far. They’ve arrested 50 juveniles and 12 adults along with recovering more than 100 stolen vehicles

“As big of a dysfunction as it is, it’s probably 80 to 100 kids in the metro, so if you take that we can defeat this problem,” Sheriff Fletcher said.

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