One of Memphis' busiest places is the impound lot north of downtown, where tow-truck drivers can sit in line for six hours to make drop-offs, victims can wait weeks to get stolen vehicles back and 2,700 cars are squeezed onto the grounds of an old farm-equipment factory. The overcrowding is happening amid an auto theft boom that has gripped U.S. cities, the New York Times reports. Vehicles from two manufacturers, Kia and Hyundai, are especially vulnerable to theft, prompting cities to file lawsuits against the carmakers and a state attorney general to open an investigation. Of nearly 11,000 cars stolen in Memphis last year — about twice as many as in 2021 — one-third were late-model Kias and Hyundais. It doesn’t take much to rip them off: just a screwdriver, a USB cord and hot-wiring know-how found in videos on social media.
Many culprits are teenagers or young adults stealing cars for kicks or using them for other crimes, such as robberies. More than half of the 175 people accused of car theft this year in Memphis were teenagers, who often abandon the vehicles after a joyride. “We know that a lot of our young people are breaking into cars and stealing cars as almost a dare, or a trend, right now,” says Police Chief Cerelyn. Davis. “They are finding it easy to do.” Cities have faced a rise in car thefts during the coronavirus pandemic. Other categories of crime, including homicides and aggravated assaults, rose nationally in 2020 and 2021 and then declined last year, though they remain above prepandemic levels. Auto thefts have continued to rise. In 30 major cities examined by the Council on Criminal Justice, motor vehicle thefts were up 21 percent last year from 2021, an estimated 37,560 more stolen cars. This followed double-digit increases in 2020 and 2021. Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri criminologist and lead author of the council’s report, said the social media phenomenon was only part of the problem. “There is no definitive explanation for this large and sustained increase in motor vehicle theft,” he said. “It seems ... to have taken on the characteristic of something like a contagion.”