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December 31, 2022

Philly DA's office to add carjacking enforcement unit as theft increased by over 50% in 2022

Trends on social media such as trying to start Kia and Hyundai cars with USB cords have contributed to the spike in carjackings in Philly and across the country

Crime Carjacking
Carjacking crime unit Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Philadelphia District Attorney announced plans to create a new unit focused on prosecuting car thefts. The Carjacking Enforcement Unit will use forensic evidence and resources to hold those responsible for stealing vehicles throughout Philadelphia accountable for their actions.

Philadelphia's crime problem has been well publicized, and the city reached a harrowing milestone in 2021 with a record 562 homicides, including 506 by gunfire. Also, in 2021, the city saw approximately 750 carjackings, a 34% increase from 2020.

In just the first two weeks of 2022, over 70 carjackings were setting the pace for a year in which there have been over 1,300 vehicles stolen, some violently, according to Philadelphia Police. Eleven people were reportedly shot during vehicle thefts, the Inquirer reported

Because of the increase in carjackings throughout Philly, a trend that mirrors the rest of the country, District Attorney Larry Krasner and his office created a new Carjacking Enforcement Unit that will focus on solving carjacking crimes and prosecuting perpetrators. 

"This new unit will enable my office to pursue strong cases built on solid evidence in order to hold accountable those who are threatening the lives and security of Philadelphia residents," Krasner said on Thursday during a press conference

The unit will be funded by a $1.5 million budget increase to the District Attorney's Office over the next six months, which was approved by City Council and Mayor Jim Kenny and will be led by Assistant DA Helen Park. 

"Carjacking by its very nature puts everybody's sense of safety and security in danger," Park said. "So I very much welcome this chance to collaborate with all of our law enforcement and community partners to help restore a sense of safety for the people of this city."

The DA's office charged 304 people for crimes related to a carjacking in Philadelphia this year, including 146 juveniles. 

What is contributing to the rise in carjackings?

It's not just in Philadelphia, carjackings across America have increased tremendously, a lot of them by teenagers following viral social media trends.

A trend on Tik Tok this year started in July when a man innocently posted a video demonstrating how to start his car with a USB cord. This started a movement of people breaking into cars, specifically Kia and Hyundai models from 2010-2021, because the ignition switch does not have an immobilizer.

Teenagers are breaking into cars removing the steering wheel column and then triggering the ignition with a USB cable.

A documentary posted on Youtube details a group of teenagers in Milwaukee known as the "Kia Boys," who are notorious for car thefts in the city. The documentary alleges that the group of teens stole almost 10,000 cars in 2021 alone.

 In September, over 33 million views were under the hashtag "Kia Boys" of people participating in illegal activity. 

Kia and Hyundai were sued in class action lawsuits as more people's cars became victims of the trend leaving many with damaged cars and, in some cases, cars that were not recovered. 

Both companies began offering security kits in October as theft continued to rise, although the kit cost $170 plus installation fees.

Kia and Hyundai acknowledged their vehicles are not theft-proof while acknowledging that the targeted social media trend was unfortunate.

Another factor contributing to the rise in carjackings is third-party delivery services. In January and several times throughout the year, Deputy Police Commissioner Ben Naish noted that drivers are setting up drivers to lure them to addresses and then steal their cars.

There is also a tactic of drivers using a bump-and-run technique to hit a vehicle and then ambush the driver and steal their car when the driver gets out to check the damage.

What is happening with the cars that are stolen?

In Philadelphia, a lot of stolen cars are used to pursue other crimes, police say. In September, when 14-year-old Nicolas Elizalde was shot and killed, along with four other high school football players who sustained non-life-threatening gunshot wounds near Roxborough High School, the suspects arrived at the school in a stolen vehicle.

Car parts and metal also contribute to the increase in the volume of car thefts. For example, at one point this year, Philadelphia Police noted that Toyota vehicles were one of the top 10 stolen cars by make, and that is because the catalytic converters are expensive and can be sold to scrapyards. 

Across the country, it was reported that the theft of catalytic converters rose to 52,000 in 2021 from 1,300 in 2018, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. In addition, in 2020, theft rose 325% from 2019. 

Last year in Philly alone, there were almost 3,5000 catalytic converters stolen. In November, the PPD released a video of suspects wanted for stealing $31,000 worth of converters from Giant supermarket delivery trucks. The incident happened in October, and thieves stole from 24 vehicles. 

Because of the increase in theft, City Council member Cindy Bass introduced legislation earlier this month that would fine scrapyards that buy stolen car parts. The proposed bill would require proof of origin for sale and would take part in illegitimate sales and could be fined up to $2,000 with the possibility of jail time.