September 15, 2023
Albany, NY

B-Roll, Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Unveils Targeted Action Plan to Combat Car Thefts

B-Roll, Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Unveils Targeted Action Plan to Combat Car Thefts

Comprehensive Auto-Theft Reduction Strategy Will Provide Support to Reduce Car Thefts in Counties Across New York State

Five Point Plan Includes $55 Million To Support Local Law Enforcement and Prevention Efforts

Governor Hochul: “Today, I'm rolling out our Comprehensive Auto-theft Reduction Strategy. We call it CARS… The five-pronged plan to stop car thieves in their tracks includes prevention, enforcement, prosecution, consumer protection, and awareness.”

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a series of targeted actions to combat the high number of car thefts, particularly of certain Kia and Hyundai model vehicles, in counties across New York State called the Comprehensive Auto-Theft Reduction Strategy, CARS. The Governor made the announcement with elected officials, local law enforcement, and state Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder at the Public Safety Building in the city of Rochester. As violent crime continues to fall statewide, these actions will provide significant support to reduce car thefts in Monroe, Erie, Niagara, and other counties that continue to experience this problem and streamline support for local law enforcement. These actions include fast-tracking $50 million for law enforcement technology and equipment, $5 million to enhance youth justice alternatives and diversion programming for teenagers and young adults, directing the State Police and Division of Criminal Justice Services to implement new enforcement efforts, supporting local district attorneys in the prosecution of car thefts and other crimes, and the launch of a public engagement campaign targeting vulnerable car owners.

B-ROLL of Governor Hochul visiting the Rochester Police Department impound lot is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event will be available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

Sorry to be delayed, we were commiserating over one certain football game. Well, first of all, I want to thank incredible partners I have here today, starting with Rochester Chief of Police David Smith and the whole department for hosting us here today. This is a building that I'm not unfamiliar with. I've been here many times.

Also, my husband spent a lot of time walking through these halls when he was United States Attorney. So, we said hi to everybody on my way over. You know, when I'm here, I'm also thinking about the fact that there's an upcoming trial in a case that broke our hearts when we lost one of our finest, the senseless killing of police officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz.

And I want to, again, send our sympathies to his family as they have to relive the pain as this trial proceeds, but the bottom line is justice will be done. And this community will receive peace, the peace it deserves. And, you know, the fact that he stood up and risked his life to serve others, like the people in this room, it's a risk you take. But they deserve, as all of you do, our unwavering support now and forever. And let's just be recommitted to that cause.

Today we're here to launch a comprehensive new strategy to combat something that I don't think anyone could have foreseen. A short time ago, and that is a surge in car thefts across the state. And for all the car thieves out there, I have one message, “You've reached the end of your road.”

I held a roundtable discussion with partners and law enforcement that I've now convened for the fourth time since I became Governor. We talked about public safety across our federal, state, and local governments and what we can do, and I want to thank the leaders here, starting with our County Executive, Adam Bello.

You have Leaned hard into the responsibility we have to protect the public and found innovative ways to especially reach out to young people before they head down a path that might be irreversible. So, to our County Executive, I thank you for your support. And of course, our Mayor. Many conversations, again, the same focus on protecting the public but ensuring that we reach out to people and say there's a better path and giving young people other alternatives.

Our Sheriff Todd Baxter, I thank you and your team for the extraordinary work that they have done for many, many years. As well as I think one of our County Clerks is here, Jamie Romeo has joined us perhaps. Hi Jamie, how are you? Good to see you.

And again, we have our Chief of Police here as well and I want to thank him. We have some of our elected officials, Assemblymember Harry Bronson. These are my partners in trying to solve the crime problem in this area. Sarah Clark has joined us as well. Thank you. Assemblymember Jen Lensford, Assemblymember Josh Jensen, and a person who knows, has worn many hats, many, many hats, particularly back to his time as Chief of Police for this great city, and that is our friend Bob Duffy. Som thank you, Bob.

I'm also joined by our DMV Commissioner. DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder hails from Buffalo, not too far down the road, so he knows this area well, and he is also at the forefront of the fight to protect the owners of the vehicles that his organization registered.

So, you know, we think about what has happened since I've been in office just two years. There was a big spike before I became Governor, a lot of it associated with the COVID pandemic, somehow society seemed to – everything seemed to fall off the wheels. I mean, there was a lot of disruption in life and crime surged, not just in New York, but across the nation.

And we have worked really hard together to drive down the incidences of gun violence and violent crimes. And so now this is a good news story. We're back to the historic lows of the pre-pandemic period, particularly here in Rochester. Those are good numbers. Can I go back to this strong partnership that don’t always assume is there?

My understanding of a lot of law enforcement entities, there's silos. People get in their own space. They have different people they report to, the United States Attorney's Office, the Department of Justice, we have our state team who actually reports to me. And we have our local officials who report to the people who elect them.

And so, you, you have different issues and challenges. But to bring a cohesive approach is not easy, but it is necessary. And that is why this strong partnership, I believe, in bringing resources where they matter to communities like Rochester and Monroe County, have made a difference.

Murders are down 28 percent. Now, there could have been a time we'd be standing here saying, “Murders are up 28 percent.” So, let's not take that statistic – overall violent crime is actually down 12 percent since 2021. So, that is good news. But here we have car thefts, have created such a different dynamic here. When you want to look at the overall crime statistics and you think, well, aren't they going down? Don't we feel a little bit better?

But when you have one outlier, one category of crimes that is driving up all the rest, that's a real challenge for us. Too many New Yorkers are waking up in shock to an empty driveway. Or walking outside the barbershop and finding out the vehicle that got them there is no longer sitting at the curb. And seeing one of their most valuable possessions. Cars are not inexpensive. It is your second most expensive possession after your housing. Having that disappear gives you the sense of helplessness. How are you going to get around? And when it's stolen, or some of the parts are stolen, it can just actually wreak, wreak havoc.

Think about the fact that the cars we're talking about, Kia's and Hyundai's. Not the most expensive brands you can find. We're not talking about luxury vehicles. So, who buys these vehicles? People don't have a lot of resources. These might be low wage earners who have no other way of getting to their jobs, or if you're a nurse, getting to the hospital to take care of your patients, or a home health care aide, or someone who's working at the local grocery store.

This is their lifeline to their jobs and their paycheck. Those who are only paid when they show up to work. A waitress is not going to get tips because she couldn't get to work because someone stole her vehicle? Now you're hitting people who are the most vulnerable. Taking away something that is essential to their lives and their livelihood. That's why this is personal. They don't have the ability to open up the garage and pull out their second or third vehicle. Because they don't exist. And there's not plentiful public transportation. You're not jumping on the subway to get to your job in Upstate New York. So, we have a real problem. Look at how those car thefts are skyrocketing.

Absolutely skyrocketing. We talked about the catalytic converter thefts a few years ago. We sprang into action, said, “This cannot happen.” We launched an aggressive target approach to deter criminals from stealing catalytic converters and putting responsibility on the chop shops to have to record and prove the legitimacy of the component parts, the catalytic converters coming in the door.

You could steal a catalytic converter and walk out with $200, not anymore. We were able to stop that one. But car thefts overall remain on the rise here and all across the country. In a study of 30 major cities, car thefts are up more than 33 percent the first half of 2023, compared to the previous year. But I'm not worried about the other cities across the country.

I'm looking at our own. These statistics are staggering. What is happening in Erie County and Monroe County? New York City's up 20 percent. That needs to go down. Other parts, the North Country, Mohawk Valley, down 50 percent. Hudson Valley, Southern Tier down 24 percent. So, something is happening here. The nature of the problem has clearly changed because the car thefts are changing, decreasing in other parts of our state.

But we're starting to hear similar challenges in Onondaga as well. Their car thefts are up 36 percent in August alone. Mostly, guess what, older Hyundais and Kias being targeted. So, millions of these vehicles made back between 2011 and 2022, we're not talking about the new vehicles, we're talking about the older ones.

They're easy to steal because they lack a basic anti-theft device. And back in 2021, a social media video surfaced that showed how easy it was to hotwire these vehicles using a simple USB cable. And it wasn't just showing how simple it was, it became a trend. And who doesn't want to be part of a trend?

That's what happened. It spread. It became viral. Seems like everybody knew how to steal these vehicles. And thefts have been on the rise ever since. Like I said, the newer vehicles don't have the problem. And there's a free software update available to fix. But it requires a visit to a dealer.

And about 80 percent of the Hyundais and Kias on the road today remain vulnerable. So, it's been all over the news. People know about it, but it has not stopped. As I mentioned, the Crime Analysis Center here in Monroe County analyzed all the car thefts in the first half of the year, 75 percent of the thefts were Hyundais and Kias.

So, that brings us down to what we're seeing in our cities. Car thefts are up 829 percent, Buffalo it’s 488 percent. That's 3,000 vehicles, 2,100 vehicles. So on. Two thirds of the state's car thefts happen in two cities alone. Think about that. Two thirds of all the state's car thefts happening in two cities. Buffalo and Rochester. And then thieves go on to commit other crimes as well. With their stolen vehicle, they get this sense of invincibility. They can steal from someone else, assault, rob a store.

And of course, our local law enforcement, who wants to be out there solving other crimes, has had to be diverted, their attention diverted. Our criminal justice system diverted because of this phenomenon. Now it creates major challenges for enforcement and prosecution. Less than one out of ten car thefts are resulting in an arrest. And in those times, the convictions are small.

Financial costs, the insurance reimbursement for a stolen car in New York, the average is $10,000. What are you supposed to do with $10,000? It's not going to buy your next vehicle. It's not going to buy the next Kia or Hyundai. So, then you're stuck. Like I said, in Rochester we had over 3,200 thefts. Direct costs of more than $32 million dollars. Insurance – that gets passed on to other rate holders in the form of higher premiums. And it's also inherently dangerous.

Look at the accidents – kids getting killed from stolen vehicles. Kids are joyriding, some aren't even old enough to have a license. They have no idea what they're doing. It's a dare. It's a bet. It's a challenge. It's a right of initiation into gangs. How many have you stolen? I read a report which I still can't believe one person bragging about stealing 300. And last year, as we saw in Buffalo, four people died in a stolen Kia. And a car that's operated recklessly, because you have to be pretty reckless to steal a vehicle, that car becomes a weapon. That can hurt other people on our highways. And we can no longer accept this as the status quo.

I've told my team, work hard. Press everything. Press all the options. Go as far as we can to come up with a solution. And I expect, just like we saw with shootings and murders, which have gone down, with a concentrated effort, we will see a dramatic change in these thefts over the next six months. That is my expectation. Today, I'm rolling out our Comprehensive Auto-theft Reduction Strategy. We call it CARS. What a coincidence. The five-pronged plan to stop car thieves in their tracks includes prevention, enforcement, prosecution, consumer protection, and awareness. And I'll walk through each and every one because this is how we're going to change the status quo.

The first part of the plan is a $50 million state investment to equip local law enforcement with new technology. $5 million of this will be reserved for Monroe County alone. And $5 million will go to Erie and Niagara Counties. Now they'll be able to apply for funding from cutting edge tools, surveillance cameras can make a difference, the gunshot detection devices. That'll go a long way in aiding investigations, ultimately prosecution. The second part, who's committing these crimes? Let's talk about youth crime prevention. The second part of our plan is a statewide $5 million investment in prevention programs for teens and young adults in the most impacted areas because we know most of these perpetrators are under the age of 24. And an old saying is that idle hands are the devil's workshop. We're seeing that very clearly. These young people need to have productive, enriching activities with adult supervision. We'll keep an eye on them, helping them find the right path to keep them occupied.

So, this vacuum of boredom and disengagement and social media that's out there as their main influencer, all that takes off. And I really want to commend our County Executive again for creating the Juvenile Enhanced Diversion Stabilization Program which truly has helped reduce recidivism in the short time you've activated it. And that is truly a model for the rest of the state and the nation.

So, the funds we're announcing today will supplement what the County Executive and the Mayor have been doing, enhancing youth justice alternatives and diversion programs, and build more capacity to bring in more young people to help change the path they're on. And we have to have these kind of interventions. The third part of our plan is to direct state police to ramp up enforcement. State police has made a big difference. You know, the Mayor has told me this, our Chief of Police has told me this. It's made a difference. I'm proud that I can deploy state police in a strategic way where they are most needed around the state when circumstances demand it. They don't just stay with their jobs because that's what they do, they go where they're needed. And that's what I'm really excited about is bringing more resources from our state police here as well.

And so, they'll partner with law enforcement again in our high theft areas. They'll help increase crackdowns, investigations. They'll provide mapping and data resources to help identify where the gangs are, where the crews are that are responsible for this spike in auto thefts. And the fourth part of our strategy is about strengthening prosecution. Right now, DAs in the hardest hit counties are struggling. The volume is unbelievable on top of their normal workload, and we need to help them.

In fiscal year 2024, we invested $150 million in prosecution and in discovery enhancements across the state. Over $7.5 million of that is going to areas hardest hit. By car thefts, right here in Western New York. But it'll take more than just the resources. Resources is code word for money, in case you haven't figured that out before. We say resources, we're talking about money, I get it. Our prosecutors, our law enforcement, they all must work together.

And I also want to give a shout out to our United States Attorney, Trini Ross, for her work in bringing the resources of the federal government to bear on dealing with the violent crime, but also being a partner as we deal with crime at all levels. So, we're going to convene regular stakeholder sessions between the District Attorney Association of New York, working closely on our response, as well as working with locals in the impacted communities and their local law enforcement.

And what we've done is model this after our successful Interstate Task Force on Gun Trafficking. When I first became Governor, I said, “I'm not seeing enough coordination.” People know things in one area, but not sharing it with the others. So, we just broke down all those silos and barriers. I want to use that same model I did for gun trafficking and bring together the same people with a focus and a spotlight on enhancing our efforts to stop car thefts.

But also, the final part of our plan is public awareness. There's a new page on our website where you can find useful information and resources: I'm also going to have a PSA campaign to encourage people to take their own measures. I want Kia and Hyundai owners to get all the anti-theft software updates from their dealers, it's completely free for car owners, and we've sent a letter. Now, believe it or not, the Governor of New York takes time to write letters. I knew as a former county clerk in Erie County, Jamie knows about this, we have a database. There's a statewide database that tells you who all the owners are. Right, Mark? I'm sitting there thinking, “How can we let all these people know, because only 20 percent have taken advantage of protecting themselves. How do we let all these Kia and Hyundai owners know they're exposed.”

It's not their fault, it's a glitch in the technology. I said, “There's a database. Search by Kia and Hyundai owners. I bet you get a lot of names.” 440,000 people in the State of New York will get this letter today telling them that they need to be alerted. A major increase in -- I even said, “Put on this picture in color.” Alert. A major increase in car thefts is focused on certain Kia and Hyundai cars, including the one you have registered in the State of New York, telling them where to get their help, what to do. And I believe when this hits the mail, people are going to run out to the dealers and say, “Yeah, I don't want to have my vehicle stolen.” I don't want to be a victim.

So, I'm excited about this. I'm excited about the fact that we're telling people that this old-fashioned device. Remember the club? You don't want to be part of this club. This is to protect your steering wheel. And this can be purchased still very easily. This can be a great deterrent, it's visible, someone looks in your window and they see this, they're moving on. So, we're encouraging people to use this simple device, once again, putting it over the steering wheel, locking it in, and then walking away freely knowing your vehicle is protected. We also want to get the word out that victims can be reimbursed through our Office of Victim Services. I talk about how hard this is for someone. How are they supposed to get to their job? How are they going to pay for the increased insurance premium? They can help get support to at least cover the cost of the stolen parts of the stolen vehicles.

And so, we mentioned the letter. The letter's going out. This little symbol. I want people to go to get that technology, the software installed at the dealer. Take out this little sticker that's going to be coming. That little red sticker. Put it on your vehicle. We're real creatives. Put that right on your vehicle. This says, “Don't bother. You can't break into this vehicle.” That should have an effect as well, right? We are really trying everything we can think of here.

And so, it's the letter, it's the website, the public awareness campaign, the media. I thank the media for putting a spotlight on this. And this is how we'll start driving down this crime. And this is a serious problem. It has had fatal consequences. And it's a crime that no one should ever have to face. And working together with the people in this room, and the committed men and women that they represent, I believe will make a difference. Because as Governor, my number one job is to keep people safe, protect them, protect our communities, protect their property. We have the tools, we have the resources, we have the ideas. And to all the criminals out there, make no mistake. No more free rides. And there'll be consequences for anyone who dare break the laws of the great State of New York.

So, I'm grateful to everyone. I want to use this opportunity to thank this entire community for standing up to protect our citizens, especially our vulnerable citizens who are the most affected by this crime spree. With that, let me call up our County Executive to share some of his thoughts on what we're doing and hopefully working together will make a real difference. County Executive?

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