The growing outrage over stolen vehicles throughout Monroe County is causing chaos as lawmakers and law enforcement determine who to blame.
Most are blaming the popular TikTok Challenge as the cause for the stolen Kias and Hyundais.
Rochester officials are trying numerous tactics to slow down and stop the trend locally. The city recently launched a campaign to “capture and shares the voices of Rochesterians who have grappled with violence and important life choices, elevates awareness of resources that are available… and encourages people to get involved to help others.”
The initiative is part of a communications campaign created by the Mayor’s Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) and local filmmaker Shabaka Mu Ausar.
But despite these efforts, local Hyundai and Kia owners continue to go outside and find their cars missing.
The phenomenon started last year. In September of 2022, CNBC reported the dangerous challenge spreading on TikTok and other social media platforms daring young teens to steal certain cars off the street using a USB cord. Some makes and models of 2010-2021 Kia and Hyundai vehicles use a mechanical key, not a key fob and push-button to start the car.
By March of 2023, Chief David Smith of the Rochester Police Department reported 500 Kias or Hyundais stolen in the city.
At the time, Senator Joe Morelle blamed TikTok. Morelle stated, "Think about it: A how-to video on how to steal a car. I mean, it’s beyond troubling. Here, you have a company who has guidelines that suggests they’ll remove those videos, and they’re doing nothing about it.” Morelle continues, “We have to acknowledge the role TikTok itself plays in perpetuating these crimes, and the role they could and should play in preventing them.”
A month later Mayor Malik Evans announced the City of Rochester had retained outside legal counsel to pursue litigation seeking to hold Kia America, Inc. and Hyundai Motor America, Inc. responsible for the costs associated with the rash of thefts of those vehicles in the city.
The news release stated Rochester joins eight other municipalities, including Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland, Ohio; San Diego, Calif.; and Seattle, Wash., in the multidistrict lawsuit that holds that both Kia and Hyundai knowingly manufactured, distributed, and marketed cars without readily available anti-theft technology, and failed to address the issue even after thefts became rampant.
As some politicians target manufacturers and social media platforms, law enforcement wants the court system and parents to step up.
RPD Captain Frank Umbrino said this is no longer a police problem.
"You need to hold the parents accountable. The criminal justice system, family court, they need to wake up and need to start doing something so we’re not sitting here at 6 o’clock in the morning with dead 17-, 18-year-old kids in stolen cars."
The data collected on teens in stolen vehicles is alarming. As of June 1, 813 KIAs and 749 Hyundais were stolen. Deputies at the Monroe County Sheriff's Office stated 30 of the 112 youth arrested by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office have been caught again stealing cars.
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office explained dozens were repeat offenders. They believe it’s due to the current “Raise the Age” part of bail laws that prevent officers and deputies from keeping teenagers who commit these crimes behind bars as they await trial according to Rochester First.
The TikTok Challenge that produced the KIA Boys doesn't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
The unlucky car owners are being left out of the conversation but could find some remedy to this devastating situation.
Kia and Hyundai owners may be entitled to compensation from a class action lawsuit.
Hyundai Motor and Kia Corporation settled a $200 million class-action lawsuit over millions of claims that the vehicles are too easy to steal. The law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP is handling this case. The settlement is expected to be finalized in July.
To learn more about the lawsuit visit: https://bartoncerjak.com/kia-and-hyundai-class-action/kia-and-hyundai-class-action-update-on-claim-process/