Moriarty announces new effort to slow auto thefts by kids

Hennepin County officials addressing increase in youth car thefts

Hennepin County officials addressing increase in youth car thefts

St. Paul police have gotten more than 1,000 reports of stolen cars this year — in Minneapolis, it’s more than 4,000.
MPD told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that of the top 10 known auto thieves in the city, the average age is 15.

It’s happening in smaller cities too — Crystal Police said there’s been a nearly 20% increase in car thefts this year.

Hennepin County’s top prosecutor has announced a new collaborative effort aimed at slowing the wave of vehicle thefts by youth.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty says the initiative will involve regular meetings between prosecutors and law enforcement in the county to identify “at-risk” teens and pre-teens — youth that law enforcement doesn’t have enough evidence against to submit for charges but who are believed to be involved in vehicle theft-related crimes — so that social workers can then contact those kids’ family members, identify issues they’re facing and connect them to services to help.

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“This collaboration, this focused collaboration, is about saying to law enforcement, ‘You give us the names of any of those kids that you think are at-risk and our team will get together and we will take a look, we will reach out to them, and see what kind of services are they getting, what aren’t they getting, in the hopes that we can intervene early on before behavior escalates,'” Moriarty said.

Additionally, Moriarty says her office will speed up its charging decisions in auto theft cases later this month. Under that part of the plan, the attorney’s office will make a charging decision within one day and have a court date scheduled for the teen within three days if the juvenile is admitted to the juvenile detention center. If the juvenile isn’t admitted to the detention center, the attorney’s office will still make a charging decision within five days.

The charging decision and court date scheduling process can generally take weeks or months.

Finally, Hennepin County courts will start requiring judges to review detention decisions for kids charged with fleeing police.

“We cannot ignore early warning signs that a child is headed down the wrong path,” Moriarty said. “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.”

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The number of vehicle thefts in the Twin Cities spiked last year, particularly due to the rise in Kia and Hyundai thefts, and has climbed even more rapidly this year, and even police have noted the large roles juveniles are playing in that.

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said earlier this spring that most of the car thieves in the city are juveniles and they aren’t being held accountable.

RELATED: Year-to-date auto thefts have more than doubled in Minneapolis, police say

“It’s a problem with teens and even pre-teens. I mean, we had an 11-year-old who almost died in a car accident in one of these cars,” O’Hara told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS back in April. “On Friday, we arrested two 11-year-olds, in one of these stolen cars, with another juvenile and a gun in the car. It’s increasingly dangerous.”

The chief added that fixing the “broken system” is the best way to reverse the troubling trend.

“It’s become such a huge issue that these kids are learning there’s no accountability and they’re becoming more and more involved in other crimes and that’s the problem,” he said.

RELATED: Sheriff’s office: 1 charged after juveniles in stolen cars crashed into civilian vehicles

“There are families we know who are desperate for help but don’t know where to turn. This new initiative and collaboration will help us get kids and families connected to supportive resources that are out there before it’s too late,” O’Hara said of the new plan.

“Youth auto theft impacts communities across the metro area. By working together in this focused and innovative approach, we hope to be part of the solution in reducing this behavior, and helping kids and families live healthy and safe lives,” Rogers Police Chief Dan Wills, the president of the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association, added.

Moriarty noted how difficult it is to criminally charge juveniles involved in auto thefts, particularly the passengers, and it’s limiting the number of cases law enforcement is sending to prosecutors, something that she noted has been frustrating for everyone.

For instance, Moriarty noted the 12-year-old driver of the stolen car that crashed into another vehicle and a bus shelter earlier this month has been charged. However, law enforcement hasn’t even submitted cases for the other five juveniles who were in the stolen car.

According to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office’s online dashboard, the office has received 465 vehicle theft cases so far this year, although that’s just a fraction of the number of actual thefts. Of those noted cases, the attorney’s office says 319 or 69% of them have involved juveniles.

Minneapolis alone has received more than 4,100 vehicle theft reports already this year, according to the city’s online dashboard. That’s nearly twice as many as the city had at the same time last year.

Crytal Police Department Lt. Peter Underthun said that in stolen vehicle cases where the vehicle is recovered and the suspect is apprehended, around 75% of the time the suspect is a juvenile.

In the past two weeks, the department has been involved in two chases with 14-year-old drivers — one of which involved a 12-year-old passenger. Underthun said that all three had history of auto theft and had been released from the juvenile detention center days before.

“And they tell our officers, we have it on bodycam, them saying ‘Yeah, I’ll go in for a couple days and I’ll be right back out and I’ll be doing the same thing,'” he said.

Once charges are forwarded to court, officers don’t know what becomes of the juveniles until they’re caught again, Underthun said.

“And we just want to see there be some accountability on the back end so that we don’t have to make those life or death decisions on almost a daily basis,” he said.