Baltimore officials on Monday said they’re expanding a slew of efforts to combat auto thefts in the city, including distributing more vehicle wheel locks and making improvements to the city’s impound lot.

“Working with our neighborhoods, partners and communities across the city of Baltimore has seen significant reductions in violent crime,” said Mayor Brandon Scott. “But [auto thefts] is one major statistic trending in the wrong direction.”

Scott was joined by Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley and Department of Transportation officials at the Baltimore City impound lot off Pulaski Highway to discuss ongoing prevention and enforcement actions being taken to address stolen vehicles.

Auto thefts have been on the rise in cities across the U.S. In Baltimore, the number of vehicles stolen has nearly quintupled to rates not seen since the mid-’90s. Maryland State Police reported in April that thefts of Kia and Hyundai cars have increased nearly 50% over the past year after viral TikTok videos showing how to steal the vehicles using a screwdriver and a USB charging cord amassed millions of views.

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Scott said the city would distribute an additional 2,000 steering wheel locks to residents who own Kia or Hyundai vehicles at two events later this month. Following those events, residents will be able to get wheel locks from any of the nine police districts while supplies last. The city also plans to obtain more digital tracking tags that can be used to help track and recover stolen vehicles.

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Officials are also working with Kia and Hyundai to offer system upgrade “clinics,” where residents can get help installing antitheft software updates. Police will also deploy more license plate readers, or LPRs, to help “identify stolen vehicles and apprehend those who make the decision to engage in this criminal activity,” said Scott.

Of the 600 stolen-auto arrests in Baltimore this year, over 200 were juveniles, with 77 of them in robbery and carjacking arrests, said Worley.

“The biggest issue that we have is once the vehicle is out there [stolen], we need to hear from the citizens. So, report your vehicle as soon as possible,” Worley said.

He also stressed basic deterrents like ensuring vehicles are locked, obtaining wheel locks and parking in lit areas on streets. The city is seeing about a 60% recovery rate on the cars stolen, he added.

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The mayor acknowledged that residents face many challenges even after a vehicle is recovered.

“We’re working to reduce wait times, improve the facilities and increase accessibility of payment options,” saidScott about improvements to city impound lot. He added that “last year we removed all fees associated with stolen vehicles.”

Regionally, cities like Washington, D.C., have seen a 117% increase in car thefts as of July 26. Philadelphia and Chicago have also reported increases of 102% and 121%, according to previous reporting from The Baltimore Banner.

Penelope Blackwell is a Breaking News reporter with The Banner. Previously, she covered local government in Durham, NC, for The News & Observer. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Morgan State University and her master’s in journalism from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

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