The New York Police Department (NYPD) is launching a specialized unit within its auto crime division to tackle a steep rise in car thefts. The unit’s announcement was made by the Chief of Patrol, John Chell, following a recent crime statistics briefing.
Chell said, “We’re coming out with an enhanced [grand larceny auto] plan. That’s something that we’ve never done before.”
The new strategy involves assigning newly promoted officers from the detective bureau to exclusively handle stolen car cases and develop robust evidence for prosecution.
The NYPD has been observing an unprecedented increase in car thefts since the very beginning of the pandemic in 2019. At the time of reporting, New York City has already documented over 7,624 car thefts this year, a jump of over 18% compared to the same time frame in the previous year, with 6,455 reported thefts. This trajectory suggests the city is set to record the highest car theft figures since 2006.
Inspector Robert LaPollo, who will head the new unit, indicated they would thoroughly investigate each stolen car report in the Bronx and Queens North, the two patrol areas seeing the largest rise in car thefts. The division’s previous focus was dismantling large-scale, organized car theft rings.
Despite some progress, the viral “Kia Boyz TikTok Challenge” has undermined efforts to combat the issue. This nationwide trend, which encourages the theft and joyriding of 2011 to 2021 Kia and Hyundai models without key fobs, has attracted a younger demographic.
Inspector LaPollo, the commanding officer of the NYPD’s Auto Crime Division, reported a rise of 1,186 more stolen Kias and Hyundais this year compared to last year’s figures. He said, “We would be down this year in [grand larceny autos] if it not been for the increase in [car thefts] of Kias and Hyundai vehicles.”
LaPollo continued, “A lot of the younger people in the city are caught up with this new challenge. It’s something that they’re doing amongst themselves to try to one-up each other by taking videos of doing reckless things.”
Pre-pandemic statistics reveal the extent of the current problem, as the total number of stolen cars for 2019 stood at 5,403.