COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX) — Law enforcement across Central Ohio continues to deal with groups of teens who have been stealing Kias and Hyundais since the first of the year.
"It does take resources away from undercover stuff, it takes away from patrol," Whitehall Police Chief Mike Crispen said.
Crispen also is the president of the Franklin County Chief's Association.
Whitehall police said Monday night a 16-year-old driver of a stolen Hyundai laughed as officers pulled him out of a car, moments after he tried to ram a cruiser to get away.
Tuesday morning, four teens were injured in a stolen Hyundai that crashed into a City of Columbus garbage truck. Three boys and a 19-year-old woman were sent to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The truck driver was not injured
"They think it's a game but these games have real life-threatening consequences," Crispen said.
Since January 1, more than 40% of stolen cars reported in Columbus have been Kias and Hyundais.
Police said many of the thieves who are part of a gang called "The Real Kia Boys," are repeat offenders who in some cases are arrested and then returned to the streets.
"It's absolutely frustrating," Columbus Police Commander Duane Mabry said. "At the end of the day, it's the kids, the ones doing it, that you get frustrated at the most."
One of the repeat offenders, police said is a 14-year-old boy who was driving the stolen Hyundai Tuesday that crashed into the garbage truck in northeast Columbus.
"The list is always growing," Crispen said. "Who is a repeat offender this week, is teaching new kids next week."
Authorities said the same teen is the sole survivor of a deadly crash last month that claimed the lives of two 14-year-old boys who were driving in a stolen Hyundai that crashed into an east Columbus business. The teen, who we are not identifying because he is a juvenile, has been charged by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office with receiving stolen property.
"This kid is stacking up consequence after consequence," Mabry said. "I don't know if he realizes what this means in his life."
Mabry said when law agencies across Central Ohio began tracking kids in late 2019, who were snatching purses and stealing cars to commit other crimes, as part of "Operation Game Over," an anti-crime project to reduce juvenile crime, they began to see an improved relationship with juvenile prosecutors and judges.
"What we were seeing, in the beginning, is more an adversarial relationship," Mabry said. "I think that's going away, we are communicating better and more."
"I think everybody wants to solve the problem," Crispen said. "We are trying to solve the problem with what's provided. The criminal justice system is broke right now."