A national trend of stealing Kia and Hyundai vehicles is now reaching the metro area, according to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. He said there has been a spike in the last two months as about 25% of stolen vehicles in his county have been Kias and Hyundais.
“The reason for that is the ignition can be bypassed so easily by chipping the steering column and then inserting a screwdriver into the ignition,” Fletcher explained.
It’s possible to steal a Kia or Hyundai without having the actual key because they lack anti-theft devices called engine immobilizers. Without this device, the car can be fooled into thinking the key is in the ignition.
Fletcher explained that thieves smash the rear driver’s-side window to enter the car because it does not sound the alarm. From there they remove the columns near the ignition and start the car with a USB cable or a screwdriver. He said the entire crime only takes about two minutes.
Many stolen cars are taken in middle-class suburbs across the metro, including St. Louis Park and Crystal, Fletcher said. Deputies usually find the stolen cars on the east side of St. Paul.
Minneapolis police are also picking up on the trend. They warned residents Friday that “Kias are being targeted metro wide,” according to Crime Watch Minneapolis.
The Ramsey County sheriff called auto theft an epidemic that often involves high-speed pursuits, which officers frequently terminate for public safety reasons. Even when police are not chasing stolen vehicles, “young kids videotape themselves driving recklessly” anyway.
On Thursday, deputies arrested two people who stole a blue Hyundai Kona with a license plate from Wisconsin. Law enforcement determined the rear left window was broken for entry and the ignition was chipped. Fletcher said they chased the vehicle from St. Paul to Vadnais Heights.
In the last six months, 50 individuals have been arrested by Ramsey County deputies for auto theft. The agency has three deputies who work full-time to catch auto thieves, according to Fletcher.
“First or second-time offenders spend little or no time and we’ve arrested several of them multiple times and unfortunately the juvenile court system requires them to be repeat offenders before we even get any significant time for them,” said Fletcher.
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office has been tracking auto theft cases since September. At the one-year mark, they intend to talk to the courts about repeat offenders and how the court system needs to take the problem “more seriously.”
“If you watch that video from Milwaukee, it’s turned into a plague in Milwaukee. The citizens are begging elected officials to do more,” Fletcher said. “Here we have a chance in the metro area to curtail this before it gets out of control and we need to do this.”
Fletcher was referencing a 16-minute documentary called “Kia Boys Documentary (A Story of Teenage Car Theft)” created by YouTube star Tommy G.
Tommy G got an inside look at how the “Kia Boys” operate. One member explained to Tommy how they steal cars using a flathead screwdriver and a charging cord.
In the video, a boy told Tommy around 60% of the members stay “strapped” and they aren’t afraid of the police or getting caught. Another person described the punishment as a slap on the wrist. “You only do three weeks for stealing a car. It’s a misdemeanor,” he said.
“If the court system takes these kids seriously, we know we can curtail the whole activity,” Fletcher said. “Matter of fact, I can guarantee you that we could cut the auto theft by 90% if we were able to keep children in some type of correctional environment.”
While many teens steal cars for the thrill, stolen vehicles are often used for other crimes such as robbery.
“And so when thieves have access to stolen cars, it’s easier for them to conceal their identity in those cars by using them for other offenses. That’s an additional problem,” Fletcher explained.
Vehicle thefts are largely a crime of opportunity and there are steps people can take to avoid becoming a victim:
- Lock your vehicles at all times
- Remove all valuables from your vehicle, including extra car keys, key fobs, and garage door openers
- Do not leave running vehicles unattended, even for short periods of time
- Auto thieves are on the lookout for this behavior and will take advantage of it whenever possible.
- Report suspicious activity to police as soon as possible