Hennepin County Attorney’s Office Announces New Law Enforcement Collaboration to Help Curb Youth Auto Theft
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty announced today the launch of a new focused collaboration with Hennepin County law enforcement aimed at combatting youth auto theft. The initiative seeks to address challenges of the traditional model of court-ordered intervention at the end of a charged case and instead provide earlier opportunities for intervention and accountability.
“We cannot ignore early warning signs that a child is headed down the wrong path,” Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said. “Youth stealing cars and driving dangerously puts lives at risk and is unacceptable. But what we adults have been doing is not enough. This initiative gets the system and community working together to help kids and families who are at risk, and to intervene early before a kid hurts themselves or someone else.”
Youth auto-theft has been on the rise in Hennepin County (and across the country) since a 2021 social media video went viral explaining how to quickly steal a Kia or Hyundai. While these thefts are common, police often have some idea of who committed the theft but can have difficulty establishing sufficient evidence to submit a criminal case. Additionally, few options exist to intervene with a youth who is simply a passenger in a stolen car.
“Youth auto theft impacts communities across the metro area,” President of the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association and Rogers Police Chief Dan Wills said. “By working together in this focused and innovative approach, we hope to be part of the solution in reducing this behavior, and helping kids and families live healthy and safe lives.”
“There are families we know who are desperate for help but don’t know where to turn,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said. “This new initiative and collaboration will help us get kids and families connected to supportive resources that are out there before it’s too late.”
“We cannot simply wait to prosecute crime after police make an arrest, we have a responsibility to try and prevent crime before it occurs,” Moriarty said. “For too long, law enforcement has known which kids were headed down the wrong path, but they didn’t have enough tools to intervene. No more. We must be proactive if we’re going to have a meaningful impact and improve community safety.
“This new initiative is possible only because law enforcement and other partners across the county have engaged in constructive and meaningful discussions over the past several weeks, informed by the community, aimed at making us all safer.”
The new focused collaboration has three parts:
- Youth-specific collaborative intervention meetings – The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and county law enforcement agencies will hold regular collaborative meetings to identify youth in need of intervention and services in each law enforcement agency’s jurisdiction. Staff from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office Youth Prosecution, Child Protection, and Be@School (truancy) teams will partner with law enforcement to learn about high-risk youth who they have strong reason to believe are engaging in auto theft-related behaviors.
- Family contact – A social worker from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office will then conduct an initial family contact to begin the process of identifying issues and connecting the youth and their family to needed services. The initial contact will include a discussion with the responsible adult about the concerning behavior that has come to the attention of law enforcement, and an offer to connect them to voluntary existing supports and resources.
- Connect with resources – Following the first contact from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, families that accept services will be connected to resources via Hennepin County’s existing Family Response and Stabilization Services, community restorative practices (through HCAO’s existing contracts), community resources and school-based resources (through HCAO’s Be@School program).
The interventions and services will be specifically designed to address underlying issues that are contributing to the youth engaging in concerning behavior. This early intervention effort is focused on offering voluntary services and is not about bringing more youth into the legal system. If those issues are not addressed, youth remain at risk of escalating behavior that could lead to legal system consequences in the future.
This new focused collaboration is a direct result of several weeks of discussions between the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, the county court system, impacted families, and Hennepin County. The discussions included multiple small-group meetings between the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and Hennepin County police chiefs, which were organized by County Attorney Moriarty to discuss auto theft and related issues. This small-group collaboration, with chiefs grouped primarily by geography, is a first of its kind in Hennepin County.
This focused collaboration complements other changes being made by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and the courts. Specifically, the County Attorney’s Office will now make charging decisions in auto-theft related cases much more quickly. If a youth is admitted to the juvenile detention center on an auto-theft related arrest but is ultimately released, a charging decision will be made by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office within one day and they will have a court date scheduled within three days. This change is tentatively scheduled to take effect June 26.
Additionally, effectively immediately, if a youth is arrested on an auto-theft related incident, but never admitted to the juvenile detention center, a charging decision will be made within five business days. Historically, this process could take weeks or even months.
Finally, Hennepin County courts will soon require judicial review on detention decisions for youth charged with fleeing police in a motor vehicle, an offense that was not previously on the judicial review list. This requirement does not change the risk assessment instrument, but it does effectively establish an automatic override, compelling detention for any youth arrested for fleeing in a motor vehicle. This change is scheduled to take effect June 20.