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Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen (District 1) will introduce a resolution calling for an investigative hearing on the increase of car thefts impacting city residents.

At Monday nights’ City Council hearing, Cohen will call upon city and state agencies to examine factors contributing to the rise and how to collectively address it.

In a press release, Cohen’s office said that according to Baltimore Police Department data, “the City has seen 6,225 auto thefts as of August 19 for the calendar year. That represents an average of 27 stolen cars per day, and is a stunning 225 percent increase compared to this time last year.” One of the carjackings escalated into the murder of one of Cohen’s constituents, Darrell Benner.

Baltimore Fishbowl spoke to Cohen before the hearing about some of the contributing factors and his hopes for Baltimore to be a model for a solution.

The relevant agencies Cohen envisions participating in the investigative hearing are, at the minimum, the Baltimore Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, various youth-serving agencies, and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.

“We want to make this a comprehensive hearing, because the level of car theft is absolutely unacceptable in our city. It’s driving families out of Baltimore. It’s an enormous quality of life issue,” Cohen said.

As contributing factors, Cohen cited the way a certain class of Kias and Hyundais were designed, with a flaw that makes them easier to steal. The TikTok trend of primarily young people going online, learning how to steal the cars, then challenging others to do it has been going on for months nationwide.

“So there’s sort of a peer pressure element to this TikTok challenge,” Cohen said. “And this is not just a challenge limited to Baltimore. We’re seeing a rapid increase all across the country, including surrounding jurisdictions, as well as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.”

In May, Baltimore joined other cities in a lawsuit against Kia and Hyundai over the nationwide trend of thefts of cars made by the auto manufacturers.

Cohen also pointed to the difficulties of post-pandemic stress and its effects on youth in our city and country.

“I think there’s a continued sense of chaos across the United States where a lot of people simply are not well and are behaving in ways that are highly inappropriate. We see increased issues around addiction. We see increased issues around violence, self-harm, and so I do think that part of this is a response to the continued mental health crisis,” he said. “I know that unfortunately, many of these crimes are caused by young people. And so, I think it’s really important that every young person who steals a car is someone that our city, and frankly country, have failed.”

Cohen said the issue will require preventative measures as well as consequences and accountability for those who commit the offenses.

He expressed hope that agencies in Baltimore have the capacity for the level of collaboration necessary to address the causes of the problem, and even to become a model for other areas experiencing this rise in car thefts.

“I believe that we can make meaningful progress, but it’s going to take everybody working together. And that to me is really the role of the City Council. Is that we are able to convene, and provide oversight and initiate collaboration between agencies,” Cohen said. “We have a great partnership between the Baltimore Police Department and the State’s Attorney’s Office, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement, the sheriff’s office. I think that we’ve seen pretty significant improvement in coordination and collaboration within the city with our law enforcement agencies. And we have a governor in Wes Moore who truly believes in Baltimore and wants to be an active part of helping to improve the city.”

Cohen called this an opportunity to work collaboratively on the problem. “I think that’s the only way we’re going to solve it,” he said.

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