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
New York State Police to Increase Enforcement Efforts and Division of Criminal Justice Services to Support Local Law Enforcement with Crime Analysis Center and New Crime-Fighting Dashboard to Coordinate Investigations
Launches Public Messaging Campaign Focused on Vulnerable Car Owners Encouraging Them to Install Anti-Theft Measures, See DMV's Letter to 440,000 Kia and Hyundai Owners Here
Governor Kathy Hochul today 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.
"I want all the car thieves out there to know: You’ve reached the end of the road," Governor Hochul said. "My top priority has always been keeping New Yorkers safe and today we are launching a new, comprehensive strategy to combat a surge in car thefts. Too many New Yorkers have experienced the shock of waking up to an empty driveway or the heartbreak of seeing one of their most valuable possessions disappear, that is why we are supporting local law enforcement to prosecute and prevent these thefts, and ensuring car owners are taking appropriate steps to safeguard their vehicles."
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Mark J.F. Schroeder said, “A car is not a toy. It is one of the most expensive and important purchases someone can make, next to buying a home. Someone should not have to worry that the vehicle parked near their home could be stolen in seconds, and they should not have to worry about someone being seriously injured or losing their life all because of something they saw online. We commend the Governor’s leadership on this issue, and in accordance with her plan, we will be notifying owners of these vehicles to take action to prevent these thefts and protect themselves and others.”
Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, “Preventing auto theft means taking the appropriate measures to address the issue head on. We thank Governor Hochul for enacting this detailed plan to not just put a band aid on the problem, but to solve it. DCJS is a committed partner ready to lend its resources in support of this effort so that New Yorkers feel safe in their neighborhoods and homes.”
During the height of the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, two crimes increased in the nation: murders linked to gun violence (+35 percent) and car thefts (+101 percent). Through targeted and evidence-driven legislative, policy, and budgetary strategies rooted in strong federal, state, and local partnerships, New York State has driven down murders and gun violence to the historic lows reported in 2017 through 2019. Shootings in New York City are down 26 percent year over year, and in the state-funded Gun Involved Violence Elimination initiative jurisdictions, shootings declined 25 percent and fatal shootings decreased 35 percent through mid-August of this year compared to the same period of 2022.
Car thefts, however, have continued to rise, initially driven by the rise in catalytic converter thefts. In October 2022, Governor Hochul announced actions to crack down on those thefts, which have been on the decline. This year, car thefts have been fueled in select counties – Erie, Monroe and Niagara, as well as parts of New York City – by viral social media posts showing young people how to steal Kias and Hyundais.
In the first seven months of 2023, car theft in Monroe County increased 345 percent, which is the largest increase in the nation, and in Erie County, 213 percent, when compared to the same timeframe last year. These two counties account for approximately two-thirds of car thefts outside of New York City, with most of them occurring in the cities of Rochester (+829 percent) and Buffalo (+488 percent). By comparison, vehicle thefts were down 11 percent in the Capital Region and Suffolk County; 24 percent in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley; and more than 50 percent in the North Country and Mohawk Valley. In New York City, car thefts increased 20 percent with the Bronx (+37 percent) and Northern Queens (+45 percent) driving that spike. In July 2023, there were 1,499 motor vehicle thefts in New York City, with half of them occurring in these two boroughs.
To address these unprecedented increases, Governor Hochul has announced the Comprehensive Auto-Theft Reduction Strategy (CARS) to provide significant support to local law enforcement:
$50 Million in Law Enforcement Technology and Equipment
Last fall, Governor Hochul announced an initial commitment of $20 million for law enforcement technology and equipment to help prevent, reduce, and solve crime, as well as build trust within communities. DCJS administered a request for information (RFI) to obtain feedback from police departments and sheriffs' offices on the types of technologies they need to improve public safety within their communities. DCJS received more than $44 million in requests for equipment, including license plate readers, mobile and fixed public camera systems, computer-aided dispatch systems and communication software, among other public safety equipment and technology.
Earlier this year, Governor Hochul secured $50 million in the FY24 Budget to fully fund these identified needs. Now, DCJS will expedite the availability of that funding to assist law enforcement agencies in combating car thefts and other crimes by issuing a request for applications, allowing law enforcement agencies to easily secure funding for equipment and technology. Funding will be disbursed on a rolling basis and prioritized for agencies within counties with the greatest proportions of car thefts and other crimes. Based on an analysis of initial requests from law enforcement agencies, the counties that are experiencing significant increases in car theft this year -- Erie, Monroe, and Niagara – could receive up to $10 million for new technology and equipment.
$5 Million to Enhance Youth Justice Alternatives and Diversion Programming
Car thefts have reportedly been fueled by viral videos posted to social media, like TikTok, showing young people how to steal certain vehicle models, but also due to persistent disruptions that the pandemic created for criminal justice response and prevention efforts. Law enforcement agencies in communities experiencing the greatest increases report that teenagers and young adults ranging from 13 to 24 are most often arrested in connection with these thefts. These individuals frequently are associated with an organized group or crew. This plan will focus on strategies targeting teenagers and young adults who are at risk of, or interacting with, the police and the criminal justice system.
To address this rise in youth-involved property crime, Governor Hochul is dedicating up to $5 million to enhance youth justice alternatives and diversion programs and services. Funding will be prioritized for the counties and adjacent counties that have reported increases in young people involved in motor vehicle theft and other property crime, such as Erie, Monroe, and Niagara. This investment will be paired with dedicated technical assistance from DCJS and the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to help build the capacity of local government and community-based organizations to intervene in the lives of these young people, change their thinking and behavior, and promote positive development.
With a dual focus on evidence-based interventions for young people who have been involved in property crime and primary prevention for youth who are at risk for being system-involved, these out-of-school time programs will be designed to provide accountability and age-appropriate opportunities – such as restorative justice practices, creative arts, athletics, and skill development – that lead toward graduation or employment, depending on their educational attainment and age.
Increase Enforcement and Data Sharing to Combat Car Thefts and Assist Local Partners
The New York State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) will increase the support they provide to local law enforcement agencies to address motor vehicle thefts throughout New York State.
Governor Hochul is directing the New York State Police to ramp up enforcement, increase intrastate and interstate coordination, and partner with law enforcement in high-theft areas. In coordination with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, State Police will leverage existing partnerships with local, state, and federal law enforcement to increase investigations and crackdowns in high-theft areas and on the state’s highways, mirroring the work of the successful Multi-State Gun Trafficking Task Force.
The State Police also will deploy Community Stabilization Units to assist with enforcement and investigative efforts in Buffalo and Erie County, and Rochester and Monroe County and continue providing city and county agencies with highway and aerial support.
In addition, DCJS Crime Analysis Center Network and New York State Intelligence Center (NYSIC), operated by the State Police, will continue to integrate and share state-of-the-art mapping and other investigative technologies with local partners. Currently, the state-supported Crime Analysis Centers in Erie, Monroe, and Niagara counties have dedicated crime analysts and deployed specific software to track, map, and analyze motor vehicle thefts to identify patterns and suspects to aid in enforcement. A new dashboard – MVTRAC (Motor Vehicle Theft, Recovery and Collaboration) – will be deployed to all 11 centers in the network and NYSIC. The dashboard will allow analysts and law enforcement personnel to use local and state data to visualize and connect theft locations, recovery locations, and suspect information. The FY2024 budget provided record funding for the network and that funding -- approximately $17 million per year -- will be instrumental in the development of this effective enforcement strategy.
Too many New Yorkers have experienced the shock of waking up to an empty driveway or the heartbreak of seeing one of their most valuable possessions disappear, that is why we are supporting local law enforcement to prosecute and prevent these thefts"
Strengthening the Prosecution of Car Thefts
In Erie and Monroe counties, the disposition of car theft arrests has suffered greatly during the pandemic. The FY2024 budget provides additional funding ($52 million in aid to prosecution funding for all 62 district attorneys’ offices and $40 million in funding to support discovery reform implementation). Erie and Monroe County are receiving $3.9 and $2.6 million in discovery funds and $2.8 million and $1.9 million in aid to prosecution, respectively. We will continue to work with the respective district attorneys to support their efforts to deliver fair and swift justice.
Cooperation between the State, our law enforcement partners, including our District Attorneys is paramount to ensuring that these crimes are prosecuted effectively. Governor Hochul will convene an interagency taskforce with the District Attorney Association of New York, the DAs of the counties with the highest rates of car thefts, and other law enforcement officials to work on strategies designed to deter and incapacitate offenders.
There are initially three areas of focus that will drive the work of the Task Force. The first is to analyze charging and pleading decisions and increase the use of custodial arrests and arraignments minimizing the use of desk appearance tickets. The second is to prioritize the prosecution of cases where car thefts and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are interconnected. Arrests for operation of a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs are down 23 percent in ONYC and 55 percent in NYC. However, conviction rates in these cases continue to be high through the Pandemic (above 90 percent in both felony and misdemeanor cases) so there is an opportunity to coordinate more effectively our car theft and impaired -driving strategies.
The second area of focus is the fact that 60-65 percent of felony cases involve sentences other than incarceration as the norm, such as probation, fines, and conditional discharge. In misdemeanor cases, city or jail sentences are uncommon (under 5 percent) and the most common sentence is a fine (~80 percent). There is an opportunity to strengthen the prosecution of these cases by reevaluating the use of the current VTL provisions (for example, VTL § 510. Suspension, revocation and reissuance of licenses and registrations) in cases in which vehicles are used in the furtherance of another crime.
The gathering of this Task Force will focus on data-driven enforcement practices that work in bringing these perpetrators to justice and using the prosecutorial tools at our disposal to hold them accountable.
Implement a Robust Public Engagement Campaign and Work Dealers to Inform Hyundai and Kia Owners
Governor Hochul is launching a public engagement campaign targeting owners of Kia and Hyundai vehicles most susceptible to theft, encouraging them to take precautions and to install anti-theft measures. This will include the state Department of Motor Vehicles contacting car owners directly and encouraging them to receive new software upgrades to their vehicles free of charge; read that letter here. Additionally, Governor Hochul has written to Auto Dealers associations, asking them to prioritize the repair and remediation of vulnerable vehicles across the state; read that letter here.
Rochester Mayor Malik D. Evans said, “While we are far from declaring victory on the issue of gun violence, the focused leadership that Governor Hochul has brought to this issue is producing the kind of results that show us our strategies are working. So it is welcome news to see the Governor direct that kind of leadership to the issue of auto thefts, and I have no doubt it will be just as effective. I am grateful for her support on this critical issue, which is helping us create a safe, equitable and prosperous Rochester by inspiring hope and delivering opportunity for everyone.”
Monroe County Executive Adam Bello said, “Prior to Monroe County’s Juvenile Enhanced Diversion Stabilization program (JEDS), one of every three juveniles arrested recommitted crimes before appearing in court. Under JEDS, only six percent of those in the program have recommitted a juvenile offense. Thank you to Governor Hochul for recognizing the program’s success. The Governor’s investment in JEDS will allow us to expand services to juveniles and their families and interrupt the cycle of criminal behavior.”
Rochester Police Chief David M. Smith said, “While the violence in Rochester is trending downwards, we have a significant way to go. I appreciate the assistance and support from our state partners and look forward to expanding our coordination to target those that bring violence to our community.”
Monroe County Sheriff Todd K. Baxter said, “I appreciate Governor Hochul’s support in enhancing technology to assist in building the Regional Investigative Operations Center. I am grateful for the opportunity to sit at the table with the Governor’s office to continue conversations on change, both operational and legislative, to enhance public safety.”