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Amid Rise in Car Thefts, St. Paul Brought Total Down Dramatically

In the past two years, car thefts have skyrocketed in many U.S. cities, driven by a trend targeting Kias and Hyundais. In Chicago, 80 cars on average were stolen every day last year. In Minneapolis, a woman's car was reportedly targeted three times in six months. Just across the Mississippi River in St. Paul, a very different story is playing out, NPR reports. Although the smaller Twin City also saw a surge, car thefts there have since fallen dramatically, and local officials say a focus on prevention and youth intervention likely has made the difference. "We're dealing with a crime that has an obvious cause," says Jeff Asher, a crime analyst and co-founder of AH Datalytics. "And that's just rare to see." Thefts began to balloon nationwide in the summer of 2022, after a TikTok video exposed a security vulnerability in certain models of Kia and Hyundai cars that made them easier to steal. Asher says the original video was up for only a few weeks, but that was enough time for it to spread.

"There's two things that can really change crime," says Ernesto Lopez, a research specialist at the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), a nonpartisan think tank. "Increased motivation and increased opportunity." The video caused a major change in both, Lopez says. There was an increase in opportunity "because now the entire country essentially has the knowledge of how to steal a vehicle and to know the certain types of vehicles." And there was an increase in motivation. The videos became a challenge, especially among teenagers, to steal cars and then upload their own videos to social media. Some people would even time themselves to show how fast they could do it. Nationwide, auto thefts have more than doubled since 2019, according to newly released CCJ numbers looking at 34 cities. Last year alone, car thefts rose nearly 30%.


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