Baltimore County Police have reported a 542% increase in juvenile motor vehicle thefts this year compared to last year, with some of the offenders being as young as 12 years old. The trend is especially concerning to police because the vehicles are often used to commit other offenses such as robbery, burglary and theft and even murder. Surveillance cameras affixed to street lights, business and home doorbells are a powerful law enforcement tool to track vehicles that are involved in crimes, but if the cars are stolen these leads will often turn up empty. Hyundai and Kia vehicles from the end of the last decade have been a prime target for these thefts due to their lack of electronic immobilizers, but detectives from the auto theft task force have been adamant that almost all cars are at risk. It’s often as simple as a person leaving the keys in vehicle, as would be thieves often try to open dozens of car doors before finding an easy target. Auto theft detectives have expressed frustration over the Maryland juvenile criminal system, as young car thieves are routinely released from custody almost immediately. In their opinion this has led to a rash of repeat offenses, because there is little deterrent to continuing to commit theft crimes.
The rise in juvenile car thefts is not limited to Baltimore County, as theft and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle are common juvenile offenses all over the state of Maryland. Just last week four teenagers were arrested theft and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle in Charles County. As is the normal course of non-violent juvenile cases, the teens were set to be released to guardians, but it turned out that the guardians showed up to the police station in a stolen vehicle themselves. The guardians were dropped off at the police station without incident, and officers went looking for the car after they realized it was stolen. Upon seeing police, the driver of the vehicle panicked and allegedly almost hit one of the police officers as he was attempting to flee. Cops eventually stopped the car, and three more juveniles were located in this stolen vehicle and charged with unauthorized use. One of the juveniles was a 16-year-old with outstanding arrest warrants and another was a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing from another county.
This incident happened on the same day that 5 young adults were also arrested for motor vehicle theft in Charles County after officers patrolling in Waldorf located two stolen Hyundais in front of a business. Officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop of these vehicles but the driver fled. All five suspects were eventually arrested and charged related to this vehicle and allegedly several others. One of the defendants, a 21-year-old male from Washington D.C. was held without bail, likely due to the fact that he has another open motor vehicle theft case in Howard County and an open burglary case in Charles County. By all accounts this means there were at least 10 juveniles or young adults arrested in Charles County for auto theft related charges in a single day, so it’s no surprise the numbers are skyrocketing in Baltimore County as well.