Teens stealing Kias, Hyundais is part of ‘public safety crisis’ according to MPD Chief

Minneapolis’ police chief says teenagers stealing cars and joyriding is a complex problem, and the current system isn’t working.

"It probably had been effective in the past, but just the volume of interactions that we're seeing – particularly around this problem with Kia and Hyundai auto theft – has kind of changed the dynamics of the situation," said Chief Brian O'Hara.

Three teenagers riding in a stolen Kia were arrested after shots were fired in Minneapolis, damaging the Minneapolis Public Schools’ administration building on Monday. Officers responded to reports of approximately a dozen shots fired along Girard Avenue North on Monday afternoon. Soon after, workers at the MPS Davis Center reported that the building had been hit by bullets.

Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s office confirmed to FOX 9 a 14-year-old and a 15-year-old have been charged, but could not offer further details because they are under 16 years old.

O'Hara said this incident is part of a larger "public safety crisis:" a lack of accountability in the juvenile justice system.

"They are learning that, ‘Yeah, you can do this, and even when the police catch you, you’re going to be immediately released,’" he said. 

O’Hara said the three teens arrested Monday were all known to police, one of them particularly well.

"They're going to get to the point where either they will die out here on the streets, or they'll turn 18 or 19 and have a record that's so atrocious that the next time we get them, they're going to be going to federal prison for 30 years and throwing away their lives," he said.

Police were only able to chase the teens because the chief altered the department's pursuit policy two weeks ago. Officers are now able to chase if a gun is flashed or fired, and if they get permission from a supervisor. But O'Hara said officers won't pursue if a teen's only crime is auto theft.

"That's not something we're going to risk the officer’s life, their lives and everybody's lives in the community just to chase for something that's just a property crime," O’Hara explained.

He said he will continue to review the pursuit policy and make additional changes to it. He's also calling to make changes to the juvenile justice system, including advocating for legislative changes, adding additional resources like the Youth Connection Center and holding teenagers instead of releasing them immediately.

"If a young person is a repeat offender, keeping them 24 hours, keeping them 48 hours will … ensure that we keep them alive, but also we'll send a very quick message to their friends that are out there," he said. "The way that it's set up now, we're not taking the fun out of this. And I feel like a lot of these kids think they're just living in a video game."