MILWAUKEE — July is vehicle theft prevention month and in Milwaukee police and elected officials continue to try and combat a stolen car epidemic.
In the first seven months of the year, the number of cars stolen in the city to date has increased by nearly 200%.
That's why council members are now weighing their options, even considering lawsuits against automakers, after asking some to enhance anti-theft devices.
Just last month, Milwaukee police say a 16-year-old driving a stolen car crashed near 76th and Good Hope Road. The teen died and two 12-year-olds, along with multiple other teenagers, were hurt. Then, just two days later, another stolen car smashed into a vehicle after running a red light near 60th and Capitol. Two 18-year-olds died in that crash.
Between the first of the year and this time last year, there were 1,686 cars reported stolen in the City of Milwaukee, according to Police. This year, that number has skyrocketed to 4,949 and rising in the same time period.
Most of the cars stolen are made by Kia or Hyundai.
So, to hear multiple perspectives on how to combat this issue, TMJ4 News is going 360. We talk with an auto theft investigator who says car owners have a role to play in protecting themselves. We also speak to a leader within the city's Office of Violence Prevention about the involvement of young people in these crimes. Kia and Hyundai tell us what they're doing to protect car owners and deter thieves and a Milwaukee Alderwoman tells us about her mission to explore every option possible to hold everyone involved or affected accountable in helping find solutions. That's where we start.
"When 66% of that increase that you're talking about is from two manufactures, it just makes sense to go to the source to attempt to fix those issues," said Alderwoman Milele Coggs.
She is joining Alderman Khalif Rainey sending a letter to Kia and Hyundai asking them to enhance anti-theft devices in their vehicles. Now, they are introducing a file to the full common council which would ask the city attorney to explore other legal remedies - suggesting a lawsuit against the two automakers could be the next step.
"Us writing the letter to Kia and Hyundai was merely an attempt to make certain that they are well aware of the impact that their vehicles and them being easily stolen is having on us as a city. Now they know, so what they do at this point could have an impact on the legal remedies that we may be able to pursue or not," said Coggs who makes it clear her intent is not to take away responsibility from the thieves targeting cars.
It's been reported that in some cases, the issue at large is that certain models of these vehicles can even be driven without keys in the car.
In statements sent to TMJ4 News, both Hyundai and Kia say they're aware of the rise in car thefts. Both say they're working with Milwaukee Police to offer Anti-theft Steering Wheel Locks to drivers.
Kia also said that beginning next year, "All Kia vehicles (Models '22 and newer) will have an engine immobilizer fitted as standard."
But, when we go in-depth, perhaps what's most alarming is the age of some of the offenders. Kids, not even old enough to drive in some cases, are involved in stealing cars and reckless driving.
Leaders in Milwaukee's Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) say the pandemic may have played a role here.
"Due to the pandemic the pipeline that we used to share information with young people was severely severed," said Kweku TeAngelo Cargile Jr. He's the youth injury and violence prevention coordinator for Milwaukee's OVP.
He says the narrative must now shift to what can be done to connect kids to resources that are already available.
Young people do take risks. But ways to alleviate said risk is creating spaces for them to be safe. We don't have enough of those spaces kind of in these later hours and on top of that we're still transitioning out of a pandemic," he said.
That investment could come in the form of employment, mentorship programs, or the creation of out-of-school safe spaces, like youth clubs.
Still, some argue it's up to drivers to do everything they can to help limit the risk as well.
"It may not be where you need the manufacturer to make the car harder to steal," said Christopher McDonold, Former-President of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators.
He says too often, car owners make it too easy for thieves to steal cars.
"We have to make sure that we're getting the message out to our citizens that you lock your car, take your keys. It's as simple as that. All the anti-theft devices in the world that we're asking the manufacturers to do aren't going to help if someone leaves their keys in the car," said McDonold.
For more information on auto-theft prevention click here.
For more information on resources focused on youth risk prevention click here.