PATEL: Car thefts could be reduced with community programs

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PatelcolorCrime in urban areas is not uncommon. As students in a city, we are hyper-aware of it and frequently cautioned to be careful when walking the campus at night. But to be honest, sometimes it is a pain to restrict myself, and I often do walk alone at night. I am sure many students feel the same way and are aware of the possible crime, but do not restrict their day-to-day activities even when trends persist.

A present crime trend in Milwaukee is car thefts which, according to the Journal Sentinel, have risen 70 percent over the last year. Theft numbers were in decline until early 2014, when there was a sudden spike, and the numbers continue to increase.

Car theft numbers in other cities, such as New York City, continue to be in decline with Milwaukee representing an anomaly. Today cars are more difficult to steal due to the new chips put in keys in order to start them. Another possible reason for the declining rate of cart thefts is this technology paired with police forces’ determination to put an end to car thefts. The police utilize new technology such as license plate scanners to keep track of cars which makes finding them much easier. The car models often stolen in Milwaukee are mostly Dodge and Chrysler models, which are easy to steal since all one needs is a screwdriver to effectively break into the car.

What is unusual about car thefts in Milwaukee compared to other cities is that cars stolen here are not usually for chop shops or other such money-making opportunities. Most recent car thefts have been committed by teenagers looking for some illegal entertainment.

Most recent car thieves are teenagers just wanting a joy ride. Stolen vehicles are usually linked to other crimes such as robbery, however the main purpose for teens is entertainment and bragging rights rather than greater crimes. Also an interesting element to these cases is how the rate of car thefts has sky rocketed but punishment for these teens has not, especially witch many repeat offenders.

Infographic by Ellery Fry / ellery.fry@marquette.edu

Infographic by Ellery Fry / ellery.fry@marquette.edu

These cases call into question why teen car thieves are not being caught and punished. Milwaukee has a non-pursuit policy of which teen car thieves are taking advantage. Police cannot pursue cars not explicitly committing a crime if it is unclear whether the car was stolen or not. There have been many accidents in the past involving police pursuing cars and deaths ensuing, resulting in the policy.

Since Milwaukee youth commit many of the car thefts, there is a question of what is driving them to commit this type of crime. Some of the suspects are as young as 13, and I wonder if the community is a major influence on their illegal activity. If more after-school resources or community programs were put into place, maybe these teenagers would have more places to go and less opportunity to commit crime.

The main reason for car thefts in Milwaukee seems to be teenage boredom and curiosity. By redirecting teens’ focus, the rate of car thefts would probably decrease. While the police need to get involved from a punishment and reprimand perspective, the community also needs to get involved from a preventative perspective. By having resources that teens can get involved with, these types of community based crimes can be reduced. Crime has been decreasing all across the nation, especially car theft.

With car theft on the rise in Milwaukee, law enforcement and the community can both help reduce these crimes and better serve our city and youth.

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