What will slow the spike of vehicle crimes in Memphis? MPD responds

Published: Jul. 16, 2022 at 11:18 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - You may know someone who’s fallen victim to vehicle crime in Memphis this year; something stolen out of their car, the actual car itself stolen, or maybe they were carjacked.

You may even be a victim yourself.

It’s a dramatic spike Memphis Police says they’re “keenly concerned” about.

“You’ve got the juvenile crime, where a lot of them are doing it for joyrides,” said MPD Deputy Chief Samuel Hines. “On the other hand, we have a lot of adults, too, that are stealing them to make business.”

The latest numbers from the Memphis Data Hub show just how many crimes there are, in three categories: thefts from motor vehicles (MV), carjackings, and motor vehicle thefts (the stealing of the actual vehicle, and not what’s inside).

From the start of 2022 to now, there have been 4,607 thefts from MVs, a 44.9% increase from 3,178 from the same time period in 2021.

There have been 231 carjackings, which is a 46.2% increase from 158 in 2021.

For MV thefts, 3,634 vehicles were stolen, a 55.3% increase from 2,340 in 2021.

Hines says the biggest problem MPD faces in this is that a majority of these crimes are property crimes that result in low sentences and low bond amounts.

“It’s an enterprise,” Hines said. “We have people who are stealing cars, selling the cars, changing out the vin (numbers) so they’re making money of the stolen cars.”

When asked what additional resources MPD is allocating to combat the spike in vehicle crime, Hines said MPD in the last year established an auto theft task force that, with the help of the fairly new Scorpion Unit and federal partners like the ATF, will specifically focus on vehicle-related crime.

There’s been a fair share of violent carjackings over the last several weeks, whether it’s a woman being dragged and strangled from her car at Baptist East, a couple of Meals on Wheels drivers having their vehicles stolen; or, most recently, a pregnant woman carjacked at gunpoint.

For these types of violent crimes, Hines looks to the recently implemented truth in sentencing legislation, that will force violent offenders to serve their full sentence.

“We just had one (case) where we had a 21 and 22-year-old that got 10-plus years for carjacking,” Hines said. “If the crime is not carried to the federal level, with truth in sentencing at the state level, the sentence should be equal about the same.”

“Carjacking is now a 100% crime, so if you were sentenced to 8 years for carjacking you will do eight years,” said D.A. Amy Weirich.

With early voting underway for the upcoming August 4th election in Shelby County, the two candidates running for District Attorney were posed with the question about vehicle crime solutions.

Incumbent Amy Weirich also points to truth in sentencing.

She said she’s been working toward having a tool at her disposal, like truth in sentencing, and wants to use its potential as part of her push for reelection.

“The answer to violent crime problem is not this continued push of violent offenders out of prison system or the speed at which we get people out of jail as quickly as we can, not taking into account victims and public safety,” Weirich said. “The answer to our violent crime problem is holding those who commit violent crime accountable.”

On the other side of the ballot, Weirich’s Democratic competitor Steve Mulrow says the uptick in vehicle crime and crime as whole is “a plague,” and truth in sentencing won’t be what changes that.

“Every few years, we have been increasing sentencing for these kinds of crimes, and it hasn’t made a difference,” Mulroy said. “Governor Bill Lee has already said that about truth in sentencing before... that we tried it and it didn’t bring crime down. All it did was balloon our prison budget. We clearly need a different approach.”

Mulroy’s different approach would involve implementing more youth intervention programs to put kids on the straight and narrow; and at the same time, devote more law enforcement resources to violent crimes and less to what he calls “petty offenses.”

“We need to work with (law enforcement) and refocus on violent crime and move away from prosecutions like marijuana possession and being late on fines and fees,” Mulroy said.

Only time will tell if truth in sentencing will truly be effective in keeping the more violent offenders in vehicle crimes are kept off the streets.

As far as results from the Auto Theft Task Force, Hines said hard numbers for its success should be seen in the coming months, but already he’s said there has been a spike in arrests coupled with the spike in crime.

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