An auto theft epidemic is plaguing New Orleans, with nearly one car stolen every hour

Published: May. 17, 2023 at 12:29 AM CDT|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 8:50 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In the city of New Orleans, auto thefts have reached alarming levels, with a staggering statistic that one car is stolen, on average, every hour.

According to the Metropolitan Crime Commission, nearly 3,000 vehicles have already been snatched by thieves this year, a 160% increase from last year.

“It’s just rampant,” says Ina Murdock, one of the city’s thousands of auto theft victims.

The true scale of the problem may be even larger than the numbers reported.

The 911 “calls for service” log reveals approximately 700 uncounted calls reporting stolen cars because police say the victims are gone when they arrive.

“Sometimes police can’t get there and the victims walk away,” says Rafael Goyeneche with the MCC.

The concerning trend is affecting every neighborhood of New Orleans, leaving residents on edge.

Thieves attempted to steal Murdock’s Kia parked in front of her Uptown home.

“January first: we wake up, the car is completely smashed,” Murdock recalls. “Two windows and the steering column completely dismantled.”

Kia Hyundai thefts
Kia Hyundai thefts(KWQC)

Foiled in their initial attempt, the criminals returned.

“Came back, tried to break in again,” she continues. “Broke a window out of rage I guess. Then came back and eventually did steal it.”

Six hours later, police recovered the vehicle.

However, the ordeal didn’t end there, as Murdock’s family was left without a car for four long months, enduring the agonizing wait for repairs to be completed.

“Four months of walking my daughter to school in 29-degree weather in the rain,” Murdock says. “You can’t have a rental car for four months. No one covers that. It was an endless saga. Finally, when we did get it repaired, we had to hide it.”


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The New Orleans Police Department reports that 48% of stolen vehicles this year in the city were Hyundais or Kias. Law enforcement attributes this spike to the influence of TikTok videos circulating, providing instructions on how to steal these specific car models using a USB cable.

The “Kia Challenge” videos have led to an increase in car thefts around the country. The videos...
The “Kia Challenge” videos have led to an increase in car thefts around the country. The videos share how to steal a car using only a USB charging cable.(Source: KAIT-TV)

Pallie Thompson had her Kia stolen.

“We had just bought a Kia Sportage. We only had it for a week,” Thompson says. “The loan hadn’t even processed yet.”

A month later, Thompson was victimized again, this time her family’s Toyota Sequoia was stolen.

“I went upstairs, looked out the window, and sure enough it was gone,” she recalls.

Police recovered the vehicle quickly, but it had already taken an emotional toll on Thompson and her family.

“At the end of the day, it is just a car,” Thompson said through tears. “But to have it happen to us twice. That’s the most emotional part.”

Goyeneche says auto thefts are often connected to violence. He highlights the recent bust of an auto theft ring operating near the intersection of North Rocheblave and A.P. Turead.

“They went in and arrested 11 subjects, confiscated a dozen guns, as well as a significant amount of drugs, and recovered several stolen cars that had been used by the members of this gang,” Goyeneche says. “There is a real cause and effect link between the automobile burglaries and auto thefts and the crimes of violence that we’ve been living through for the past three years.”

Goyeneche believes that organized criminal groups are frequently involved in car thefts, utilizing the stolen vehicle to commit additional crimes.

Federal and local law enforcement agencies are now working together to investigate and dismantle these criminal networks.

“Every offense that remains unsolved means that those offenders are out and continuing to break into cars and steal cars, which fuels the crime rate,” Goeyeneche explains.

Offenders of all ages are involved in these crimes.

A 13-year-old and an 11-year-old attempted to steal a car at gunpoint from a man, only to have the victim defend himself with his own firearm, shooting both children in the leg.

Fleeing the scene, the young offenders jumped into what police say was a stolen getaway car, which they ultimately crashed down the street.

“For that to happen, it terrified everybody on this entire block,” a neighbor told Fox 8. “Really terrified everybody.”

“As soon as a car gets hot, it gets parked and left, and rather than fill it up with more gas, it’s easier to go out and steal a car,” Goyeneche says.

Since the beginning of the year, the NOPD has managed to recover approximately 1,000 stolen vehicles scattered throughout the city. The vehicles are often found abandoned or dumped.

When officers find the vehicle, they call a tow yard like Bayou Auto on Old Gentilly Road.

Tamiqua Williams, an employee at the tow yard, says they receive more calls to pick up stolen cars than for accidents, uninsured vehicles, and hazardous incidents combined.

“Oh, it’s bad. Daily,” she says. “It’s not a 24-hour period that goes by that we don’t get a theft recovery. Most of them are Hyundai or Kia.”

Social media trend helping to increase Kia and Hyundai car thefts
Social media trend helping to increase Kia and Hyundai car thefts(Ethan Stein)

The lot at the tow yard is filled with stolen vehicles, displaying the aftermath of violence with shattered windows, broken steering columns, riddled with bullet holes, or burned.

“The main thing we’re worried about right now,” Williams says. “We watch the news and we see that most times when they do catch these thieves, they’re kids. School is about to end this month. We’re bracing ourselves for a horrible summer and that’s awful.”

The victims have reached their breaking point and say enough is enough.

“Is the cycle going to break?” Thompson asks. “It’s got to. Something’s got to give.”

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