SPOKANE — Two teenagers as young as 13 were arrested in connection with a string of vehicle and surveillance camera thefts believed to be the work of a juvenile crime ring, the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office announced in a Wednesday press release.
The 13- and 14-year-olds were arrested by a newly formed Kia/Hyundai Auto Theft Task Force, a joint project of the Spokane Police Department and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.
The two are believed to have “significant involvement” in a juvenile crime ring that investigators believe is responsible for numerous stolen Kias, Hyundais and Ring cameras. The group is believed to have stolen four vehicles and 10 Ring cameras in two days, according to the police department, as well as having thrown a camera through the front window of a house and breaking out a vehicle’s window.
One of the teens was arrested by SPD’s Stolen Property Enforcement and Recovery team, supported by a sheriff’s deputy, after he was found hiding in a closet in his mother’s home, according to the press release. The other teen was arrested at his middle school.
Both face charges related to the two-day crime spree, according to the press release. Two other 14-year-olds associated with the same group were arrested by Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies in August.
Collectively, the four have been charged with 26 felonies, 10 gross misdemeanors and one misdemeanor, including robbery, vehicle and attempted vehicle theft, possession of a stolen vehicle, malicious mischief ranging from first- to third-degree, possession of another’s ID and possession of burglary tools, according to the press release.
The police department reported that vehicle thefts have dropped dramatically as juveniles associated with the group have been identified and arrested, though statistics weren’t immediately provided.
“Both organizations had a number of personnel and units working on this problem for a while, and then we came together for this task force to really hit it hard and make a difference, and it definitely has,” Julie Humphreys, SPD spokeswoman, said in a brief interview.
There’s a national trend of thefts of both Kia and Hyundai models without push-to-start buttons, according to the press release.
Owners of such vehicles are encouraged to contact their dealership for possible free or low-cost solutions, such as steering wheel locking devices. Some victims of recent thefts have also placed GPS location devices in the vehicles, which have been helpful to law enforcement, according to the press release.
“The manufacturers are doing quite a bit to try to solve the problem with them being susceptible to theft,” Humphreys said. “There are a large numbers of thefts of these vehicles, so they would fall into the category of types that are easier to steal.”
Humphreys said that the rash of thefts is part of a social media trend where juveniles post videos of themselves stealing vehicles.