The age of bizarre and often dangerous social media challenges strikes again as Mayor Eric Adams announces that New York City has had enough of youth car thefts and joyrides targeting Kia and Hyundai owners. The trend has its roots in social media, and is inspired primarily by TikTok, Youtube, and Snapchat videos.
Adams and the NYPD have been grappling with the issue since last September, following national trends, and recently put out a comprehensive plan to decrease the surge of grand larceny auto (GLA) crime among young people.
“Violent crime is down in New York, but this administration isn’t going to stop there. Today, we are announcing bold action that takes a 360-degree approach to combating car thefts in New York City,” said Adams. “This comprehensive plan focuses on enforcement, education, partnerships, and outreach to help us leave car thefts in the dust. Our administration is serious about New Yorkers’ safety, and today we are taking control of the wheel to bring down car thefts — sending a clear message that if you steal a vehicle in New York City, you will be held accountable.”
Adams said that car theft itself is mostly viewed as a “nonviolent crime” but the consistent pattern of these cars being used in violent crimes, drive-by shootings, and robberies of different commercial establishments is deeply concerning. Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Philip Banks III said at the presser that so far this year there has been an overall decrease in major crimes as compared to last year, but GLA crimes are up approximately 19%.
Christopher Herrmann, John Jay College assistant professor and a former NYPD crime analyst supervisor, points out that while a majority of property crimes go unreported, car and motorcycle thefts are an aberration.
“People are not [always] aware of when things are stolen from them,” he said. “But [almost] everyone in America has insurance on their car, [and] everyone wants their car found [and] needs a police report. Murder and auto thefts are always reported. Those are two things that we can rely on consistently. Burglary, grand larceny? Not so much.”
There are many reasons for stealing a car according to Herrmann, but keeping the vehicle to drive is very low on the list due to registration laws. And grand larceny auto crimes range from direct jackings—which can involve weapons and violence—to stealing a running, parked car as a crime of opportunity. Neither is a victimless crime but he says enforcement and disincentivization can be tricky given the number of youth offenders.
“Once a young kid gets locked up before the age of 18, they’re eight times [likelier] to end up in state prison for bigger, badder crimes,” said Herrmann. “If you look at just strictly from a financial perspective, we waste a lot more money on locking up juveniles than we do by re-educating them, training them, or giving them job skills, [which] I think pays off a lot more long term than locking them up.”
Joyrides could lead to a permanent criminal record
City numbers indicate that over 51% of those arrested for GLAs since 2022 have been under the age of 18 and more than 88% are age 25 and under. Most car thefts are happening in the Bronx and northern Queens. According to NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell, there have been over 2,000 Kias and Hyundais stolen this year in the city and 300 last year.
Adams emphasized that the crackdown is to protect car owners and the future of young New Yorkers. “A joyride does not bring about joy when you have a permanent criminal record that could impact your livelihood in the future,” said Adams. He worries that social media patterns and video games will continue to influence youth behavior leading to dangerous situations—similar to subway surfing deaths and persistent drill music deaths among youth.
“See, when a person’s vehicle was stolen, that’s not just a loss of property. We rely on that vehicle for work. We rely on that vehicle to take our children to school. For many of us, it’s our lifeline,” said Banks. “We are not going to stand by and let people be robbed of that lifeline. This is a deep issue. We’re treating it with the utmost respect. The utmost seriousness.”
Though the reckless practice of joyrides among youths is not new, the novelty of essentially recording yourself committing a crime and then posting or rapping about it is. The stealing part was popularized on social media, particularly on TikTok, when videos started circulating showing how to exploit the vulnerabilities of specific models so they could be easily stolen.
It’s also been reported by news outlets, like The Verge, that this specific car theft trend is most popular among “young Black males living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.” In places like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio, the car theft trend has been linked to young rappers on streaming sites. Both groups have been dubbed ‘Kia Boys’ nationwide and have even spurred a $200 million lawsuit against the car manufacturers.
A Hyundai spokesperson said the company is aware of the “persistent theft of certain vehicles not equipped with push-button ignitions and engine immobilizers” and mentioned ramping up anti-theft software installation for its models.
Adams and the city’s law department agreed to hop on the lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai in June 2023. The city said it was in an effort to hold the two companies accountable for refusing to equip certain models of both cars with standard anti-theft measures following the uptick in car thefts. The city has also tried distributing donated Apple AirTags earlier this year to car owners to help people keep tabs on their Kias and Hyundais.
Despite the uptick in thefts of models from the two South Korean-based manufacturers, Hondas remain the most stolen car brand in New York City, according to the Mayor’s Office report.
In Adams’ plan, every NYPD precinct now has a dedicated car theft radio motor patrol car with two mobile license plate readers that will be on patrol 24/7. He has also assigned a GLA coordinator to collect data on stolen or lost vehicles and additional investigators to the city’s Auto Crime Units.
The plan hinges on a big educational aspect as well, convening the Greater New York Automobile Dealers Association (GNYADA), the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and Spectrum TV to implement outreach strategies that will educate car owners with tips on how to keep their property safe. The Mayor is also calling on community partners, violence interrupters, and school administrators to proactively reach out to youths with multiple car theft arrests.
Kevin Livingston, founder and CEO of 100 Suits for 100 Men, runs an outreach and mentorship program that impacts hundreds of young boys of color in the city each year. Livingston said that it’s important to reach out to youth whenever possible and to meet them where they are.“Mentorship; you build a relationship with the youth so it’s basically about that relationship. And when you have that relationship respect is earned,” said Livingston. “And when they respect you, they listen to you.”
Speaking from his perspective, he said that young men want to have fun with their friends but don’t always understand that the ramifications of their actions can be detrimental to their freedom in the long run. He thinks that the “dark media” is definitely influencing kids in a negative way and education at home is key. When asked what’s the best way to be a role model for young Black boys, he said simply: “show up” for the youth.
“There’s enough people that talk that don’t show up. You can be anybody,” said Livingston. “But if you are willing to show up for these youth, you’d be surprised how they respond to you.”
Ariama C. Long and Tandy Lau are Report for America corps members and write about politics and public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
Author’s Note (Tandy Lau): Kia responded with a statement to Amsterdam News’ media requests after press time. The company pushed back against municipality lawsuits as “without merit” and pointed to more than 700,000 vehicles receiving a free security software upgrade.