Bellevue Police Department launches new task force to curb rising auto theft trend

The number of car thefts throughout the region and nation is rising at an alarming rate. 

Officials with Bellevue Police Department said many of the suspects are teenagers, a national trend that started on TikTok in 2023. Beginning next week, the department will launch its new Motor Vehicle Theft Task Force to curb the crime trend.

"Really what this comes down to is accountability. If you’re going to steal a car in Bellevue, we’re going to hold you accountable," said public information officer Seth Tyler.

Kia’s and Hyundai’s have been the top target of car thefts sweeping the nation and in Bellevue.

"In 2023 alone, we saw a 45 percent increase in car thefts. That may seem like a huge number, but if you break it down by make and model, Kia’s and Hyundai’s specifically, we’re looking at almost an 800 percent increase in 2023 compared to 2022," said Tyler.


More Kia Boys behind bars means less car thefts in Western Washington, authorities say

More Kia Boys off the street, means more cars stay in their owner’s driveways, according to the Puget Sound Auto Theft Task force.

Without revealing their tactics, Tyler said the new Motor Vehicle Theft Task Force will use data-driven policing to focus on problem offenders in high-problem areas throughout the city.

"We’re going to have marked units that you’re going to be seeing in those areas, but there’s also going to be some unmarked assets that you might not see in that area that are going to go after these prolific car thieves that target these vehicles," said Tyler.

This week, Bellevue Police arrested three teenage girls, ages 13 to 15, suspected of stealing cars and using them to commit other violent crimes throughout the region, including armed robberies in Federal Way. Detectives said the group is accused of 16 car prowls in one night.

Tyler explained breaking in and starting a Kia or Hyundai is a trend the suspects are learning from viral videos on social media.

"Unfortunately, there’s a vulnerability on these specific vehicles where they can get started using just a USB phone charger. And so that’s what these kids are doing. They see it online, they think it’s cool, they think I can just steal a car it’s that easy. What they don’t think about is the consequences," said Tyler.

He said most categories of crimes have gone down in the city. For example, commercial and residential burglaries decreased by more than 20 percent. With auto theft rising, Tyler explained that the department and the task force will target their resources to reduce numbers.

Along with the task force, the department has also given out more than 400 free steering wheel locks to owners of vulnerable cars. Officials are also providing informational post cards to help drivers upgrade their car’s software to reduce their risk of theft.

Tyler said the rise in car thefts isn’t just an issue that affects the victims, but rather an issue that impacts public safety and all people in more ways than one.

"It also affects insurance rates. Our insurance rates are going up because vehicles thefts are at an all-time high. So, this affects not just the people that get their cars stolen but everyone else who has car insurance in the state," said Tyler. "The insurance companies don’t care what kind of car you drive. They care what zip code you live in. So, that can make a really big difference on your rates."