Parise Haskins was on her way to a friend’s house in the early morning of May 25 when she got a flat tire. A nearby tire shop had already closed for the night, and she figured she could leave her car there until morning, when she could take it in. It would only be a few hours, she thought.
But when she returned to Desoto Road in Southwest Baltimore, her Kia Optima was gone.
Haskins, 47, called around to tow yards, but none had seen it. So, she reported the car stolen to police.
“It was crazy because we was just talking about the guys, I guess they’re called the Kia Boys, that run around the neighborhood stealing Kias,” she said. “They got to my car, whoever it was.”
Finally, three days ago, police told Haskins they’d found her car. The back window had been busted out. The ignition was broken, as was the glove compartment.
Experiences like Haskins’ are happening at a near record rate in Baltimore. Haskins’ car was one of 960 auto thefts reported to Baltimore Police in May, a Baltimore Banner analysis of crime data has found — triple the number of any month prior to 2023.
Auto thefts were already the worst they been in recent memory when April ended with 542 reported incidents. Then, almost twice as many vehicles were stolen in May. The trend began earlier this year when a social media challenge led to more thefts of Kias and Hyundais.
Most auto thefts are happening in the Northeastern police district, but no part of the city has been spared.
Some neighborhoods have already seen more auto thefts this year than they did all of last year. The northeast neighborhood Hamilton Hills has had 84 auto thefts so far this year. They had just 26 in all of last year. Neighboring Loch Raven has had 90 such thefts, up from 45 for all of 2022.
Auto thefts are also higher already this year compared to last in the three bordering neighborhoods of Canton, Highlandtown and Patterson Park.
In May, the city attributed an increase in car thefts this year to a nationwide trend, fueled by TikTok videos showing how to steal certain Kia or Hyundai models using a screwdriver and a USB charging cord.
In a press release to announce a lawsuit against the automakers, city officials said 577 Kias and Hyundais had been stolen in Baltimore as of May 11.
“The Baltimore Police Department has tracked the striking increase of auto thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles throughout the city. Year-to-date, auto thefts are up 95%, with Kia and Hyundais representing 41% of all stolen vehicles,” then-Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at the time.
The lawsuit says the ease with which certain Kia and Hyundai models can be stolen is a public nuisance, and says it has “significant consequences” for city residents.
Some models made between 2010 and 2021 have a push-to-start system but do not have an anti-theft “immobilizer” to prevent a car from being started without the correct key, Christopher McDonold, executive director of the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, previously told The Banner.
The Police Department did not immediately answer further questions Thursday about car thefts this year, including about updated numbers on Kia and Hyundai thefts, how those thefts have contributed to the increase and why thefts are happening most in the Northeastern police district.
In May, the automakers agreed to a $200 million settlement to address the vulnerabilities in certain models that led to a rise in thefts. In a statement, Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said the settlement does not impact the city’s lawsuit.
“Hyundai and Kia’s decision to put cost savings and profits over public safety has had significant consequences for Baltimore and its residents, as it has in other cities,” the lawsuit says.
The number of stolen vehicles has not been this high since the mid ’90s, when Baltimore averaged around 1,000 cars stolen per month, according to statistics from the Maryland State Police Uniform Crime Reports. Baltimore recorded 13,603 auto thefts in 1994, a rate of more than 1,100 per month.
As for Haskins, she plans to take her car to a Kia dealership to see if they can fix it, though she’s heard other people have had to wait months for repairs.
At this point, Haskins said, “I just want my car back.”