Teen car theft is a gateway crime that's growing in Music City and completely avoidable, according to the assistant district attorney.
Since the beginning of April up to mid May there were 28 car thefts by juveniles who stole cars that were either running or had their keys inside them. That number isn't including adults or first time offenders who are let off by a judge, according to ADA Rebecca Miller.
"It's happening all over town. Even in our gentrified neighborhoods, our family neighborhoods," Miller said.
Miller said that while stealing vehicles is obviously wrong, community members also have a responsibility to keep their possessions safe and off the streets.
"It has a tremendous impact. They take your vehicle and they use that vehicle to place others in danger. Other children, law enforcement and other people in the community," she said.
Eric Evans was once involved in auto theft too, but has since gone on to lead an organization that helps young men find a better life after being in the criminal justice system.
"We try to help them with their decision making going forward," Evans said.
Evans says it's not difficult for a car thief to identify targets. Most will just wait near a parking lot and look for patterns. If someone leaves their car running or leaves keys in their car, criminals will target that vehicle.
"You're making it too easy for them. You've got to be careful," Evans said. "I think that's the problem with some of us adults. We get too comfortable."
Both Miller and Evan agree, car theft is a gateway crime. It leads to other, more serious crimes, such as robbery or gun crimes.
"It's just the beginning of it. You find yourself starting to steal other things. Breaking into people's houses. If they left their keys in their cars, what else did they leave open," Evans said.
Ask Malik King, he's a victim of car theft and it wasn't even his fault.
On December 30, King's car was stolen outside a convenience store on Due West Avenue. King had dropped the 2002 Toyota Sequoia off at a car mechanic for transmission work. During a test drive, the mechanic noticed King's battery was low. So, he left the car on while he ran inside the store. When he came back out, the car was driving down the street, stolen by a 16-year-old.
King knows this type of theft is common. "A lock is only to keep people honest. Because if they want it, they're going to get it," he said.
The car was eventually recovered on January 7. However, during the period it was missing, it was involved in a car chase in which police were forced to back off because of the danger.
According to Miller, the suspect was caught through finger prints in the vehicle. The 16-year-old was convicted of auto theft and aggravated burglary.
Miller estimated there have been hundreds of car thefts in the metro area since the beginning of the year. She's hoping people will learn their lesson and not take chances with their vehicles.