Car theft epidemic: The revolving door that allows it to keep happening

Car thefts have exploded over the last several years and the numbers are not dropping.

Police efforts to stop or find stolen vehicles often lead to car chases and crashes. National and local arrests show many of the thieves are juveniles, but are they being punished?

News Center 7′s Mike Campbell talked with victims and those working in the justice system about the increase in car thefts.

We all fear it, walk out to our driveway or employer parking lot and our car is missing. For many people, it’s the beginning of a long nightmare, made worse by the fact they can’t tell if anyone is being arrested or punished.

We see it every day when officers are chasing a stolen car. Young people crash or dump the car and run. The owner hears nothing but bad news.

Kathrine Trigg, who was the victim of a stolen car, said, “It had been involved in a crime in Oakwood and then crashed in Middletown.” Her car was stolen in July 2022.

“I didn’t get much information from Dayton or the Prosecutor’s office,” Trigg said.

She learned two young people got away and one juvenile was caught. That juvenile was out within two weeks and eventually ordered to pay restitution but didn’t have a job.

“Financially it was rough. Just a rough time,” Trigg said.

Jennifer Hunter’s car was stolen in August of 2022. She said, “It’s like a domino effect that you don’t expect to have happen.”

Police found Hunter’s car within 10 minutes of her calling to report it stolen. Officers told her a group of juveniles took her vehicle, which they found six blocks away, wrecked, and trashed.

“They all ran, and I never heard another thing,” Hunter said.

She was forced to miss work, like many victims, which was a big money misery.

“You can’t take people’s cars. Many are working paycheck to paycheck,” Hunter said.

She was forced to pay for a new car, her payments went up and so did her insurance.

If police arrest someone under 18, accusing them of a crime, they are brought to the back of the Montgomery County Juvenile Court building and are registered. Critics say the problem is many of these young people, under 18, walk right back out the doors, are released to their parent’s custody, almost before police finish paperwork, and are free to commit more crimes.

News Center 7′s Mike Campbell asked Eric Shafer who is the Administrator for the Montgomery County Juvenile Court “You understand that people are frustrated when kids come down here on a car theft charge and they are released to their parents that night?” Shafer replied, “That is, that’s, I understand.”

Shafer continued by saying, “Perception is not reality.” “We’ve been watching care theft cases very closely and over 70% of kids that come to our attention with that offense are held,” he said.

According to Shafer, the rest of the juveniles accused of car theft are placed on electronic home monitoring if they are released. But the problem still seems to be growing, even spreading to businesses.

JB Davis is the General Manager for Performance Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge Ram in Centerville. That business has been hit a half dozen times by organized car thieves.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Davis said.

The car thieves are young, many of them juveniles. Davis said he had video of thieves inside his showroom one time and then another occasion on a back lot, driving away several vehicles at once.

Davis said the thieves use every method available to make off with a vehicle. They are doing the same to stop them, blocking lots, adding camera systems and security teams, and even placing tracking devices in vehicles.

“We are literally spending an hour or two a day, every day, to prepare,” Davis said.

According to Davis, most of the stolen cars are prime merchandise. They average anywhere between $40,000 to $100,000 vehicles.

The dealership’s insurance rates are up, their deductible is up, and they are forced to self-insure. Davis said several police agencies have worked with them and everyone is frustrated.

“I think a lot of us feel like people are getting away with it,” Davis said. “I think the legal system is broke.”

“I would say that is not true,” Shafter said. He believes they are working with community partners to improve their responses to this issue.

“We’re focusing on rehabilitation at the juvenile court, that is truly our mission. But a big piece of rehabilitation is punishment and being held accountable,” Shafer said.

Car thefts in Dayton and Montgomery County, along with the whole Maimi Valley have gone up each of the last three full years. It’s one of the reasons the Montgomery County Auto Theft Suppression Task Force was created in 2022.