Disturbing Trend of Car Theft 'Selfies' a Gateway Crime


With the advent of video-capable smartphones, we have seen the consistent rise of videoing irresponsible and criminal acts. Sharing has only exacerbated it’s popularity. There have been countless crimes solved when incriminating ‘selfies’ were posted online.

Tampa Bay county have had numerous successes, after criminals photographed themselves “posing with drugs or stolen cars, flashing gang signs and even showing off guns used in shootings”.

As of late there has been a concerning trend of young offenders stealing cars, recording videos of themselves and posting on open source platforms.

Is it a cry for attention?

Texan Police arrested 17-year-old Houston teen, Kenneth Davis, who videoed himself rapping to the radio while driving a stolen truck. After looking at his phone, they found further video footage that linked him to previous vehicle thefts.

And they are starting younger and younger. Latarian Milton, a 7-year-old South Florida boy, stole his grandma's Dodge Durango and took it for a joyride with his fellow 7-year-old friend.

Milton smashed into mailboxes, cars, and street signs. There was only so much the Durango could take before the front wheels finally fell off. And this is not some cute (yet frightening!) story of kids wanting to emulate their parents by taking the car for a spin. His justification? Not only was he mad at his mum, but he "wanted to do it ‘coz it’s fun. It’s fun to do bad things … I wanted to do hood rat stuff with my friend."

This attitude shows an alarming disrespect.

Not just for the lives and safety of themselves, but for innocent members of the public. The adrenaline rush of stealing cars is a gateway to even more dangerous crimes such as armed robbery.

Pacific Grove Police charged 18-year-old Victor Almanza-Martinez of Castroville for armed robbery and kidnapping, after him and two friends robbed a group of their car and its belongings. Before fleeing the scene, Almanza-Martinez had exchanged Snapchat details with a female victim and they posed for a selfie together. Police say the selfie helped them track him down.

Video has lead to other dangerous car trends going viral, such as ‘ghost riding’. This is when a driver puts the car in neutral (or more dangerously, leaving it in drive), exits the vehicle and dances alongside while the car is moving. For even bigger thrills, they dance on the hood, trunk or even roof —all with nobody behind the wheel. 

This culture of recording foolish crimes can have fatal consequences.

The presence of cameras can have an encouraging effect on reckless behaviour, with the thought of having an audience egging offenders on. In October 2015 this nauseating video captured the final moments of two young men, intoxicated on a concoction of drugs, as their car went crashing into a church wall.

The footage shows driver Kyle Careford, 20, and his passenger Michael Owen dangerously speeding down dark roads, weaving in and out of traffic. Michael eventually starts to panic, shouting "slow down bruv, we are doing 90". While the car was not stolen, the driver was under the influence of illegal substances, as well as driving dangerously.

A woman, first to the scene, can be heard asking "can you hear me", "is anyone alive". Both men were declared dead at the scene. Their families have released the tragic footage in the hope that it may deter other young drivers from making the same mistakes.

Luckily, not all incidences are fatal. Ohio Police were able to apprehend a drunk driver after being tipped off with this video, which had been posted online.

So, what are the statistics on vehicle-related crimes?

In the United States, drugs other than alcohol (legal and illegal) are involved in about 16% of motor vehicle crashes. In 2014, over 1.1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That same year, 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for nearly one-third (31%) of all traffic-related deaths in the U.S.

There were an estimated 721,053 motor vehicle thefts throughout the United States in 2012 - that resulted in a loss of  over $4.3 billion. Motor vehicle thefts in the U.S. account for 8.3 percent of all reported property crimes.

What is being done about this?

In order to combat this rising number of thefts by young offenders, New Zealand Police launched a campaign centered around vehicle crimes. It kept tabs on online videos, looking out for car thieves recording videos of themselves and posting online.

In order to find the right trends, slang and keywords for the job, they worked together with the district Car Crime Squad to get the search queries right. We recommend taking advantage of inter-department and subject matter experts to find the right language for your search terms.

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