Sunday, May 05, 2002

Auto thefts in city rising at faster pace

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Auto thefts have risen sharply in Cincinnati over the past year, and many of the thieves are young. Among the latest arrested: A 10-year-old boy.

        The child was taken into custody Wednesday night in Walnut Hills after somebody called police to say a young driver was headed the wrong way down William Howard Taft Road.

        A police report described him as 4-foot-10 and weighing 80 pounds.

        All serious crime rose in the city last year, as it has in cities across the country. But here, auto theft grew the most — 52.2 percent.

        A car was reported stolen every 2 hours and 12 minutes in 2001, up from every 3.4 hours the year before.

  Car thefts have been on the rise in Cincinnati in recent years, with an exception in 1998:
  2002: 636*
  2001: 3,596
  2000: 2,587
  1999: 2,212
  1998: 2,176
  1997: 2,226
  1996: 1,820
  * Includes only January and February
  Source: Cincinnati Police Department.
        The stolen-car tally for 2002 was 636 at the end of February, the most recent month for which figures are available. If that pace continues through the year, the city easily will pass its 2001 total of 3,596 stolen cars.

        Leading car-theft neighborhoods are Avondale, Bond Hill and the West End.

        Many of the thieves are young: A 15-year-old was arrested Wednesday in a white Chrysler LeBaron. Two teen-age brothers were recently arrested for stealing new cars from dealerships — and “renting” them to their friends. Investigators recovered seven.

        Detective Jeff McKinney, half of a team of car-theft investigators in Cincinnati Police's District 4, sat in juvenile court several weeks ago and heard a teen-ager explain to a judge that he stole a car because he “didn't have anything else to do.”

        Another 16-year-old admitted he'd stolen about 25 cars — “and he was proud to tell us that,” Detective McKinney said.

        Young thieves often learn how to break a car ignition lock from classmates, he said.

        The 10-year-old said he learned it from somebody in the neighborhood.

        He and his 13-year-old brother threw a brick through a back window of a 1992 silver Plymouth Acclaim Wednesday afternoon, police said, broke out the ignition and drove away. Officers found a brick and a screwdriver in the car.

        Mostly, the younger thieves take the cars to joyride, said Lt. Kurt Byrd, police department spokesman. Older thieves often trade the cars for crack cocaine.

        The 10-year-old was charged with juvenile counts of auto theft, obstructing official business and possession of criminal tools. He was taken to juvenile detention.

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