New York City is adding a new weapon to its crime-fighting arsenal: Apple AirTags.
At least some people are eligible to receive the free bluetooth-powered tracking devices to combat a spike in car thefts in the five boroughs, Mayor Eric Adams announced on Sunday. The city will distribute 500 of the devices, donated by the Association for a Better New York, to residents, including in the Bronx where car thefts rose 19.4% from this time last year, NYPD data shows. Citywide, the number of stolen vehicles has climbed from 3,756 to 4,184, up 11.4%, over that same time span.
“It allows our officers to be more strategic while mitigating pursuits, keeping us safe and keeping the community safe,” NYPD Chief of Patrol John Chell said of the AirTags. “Hopefully we recover your car undamaged, we take a bad guy off the streets, and you get a car back to conduct your business and it doesn’t impose on your life.”
Car owners can stash the AirTags in unassuming places, like the car’s glove compartment or trunk. If a user’s vehicle is stolen, they can locate it in an app that tracks the user’s car in real time using a bluetooth signal.
Car owners must notify the police if they suspect their vehicle is stolen. The NYPD will not have access to the location of cars tagged with the free devices, Mayor Adams noted.
“This is not a centralized tracking system where we are in charge of tracking someone’s car,” Adams said.
Still, some social media users expressed their discomfort over using the police-provided trackers.
“Sure Air Tag your Car for the POLICE,” one Twitter user wrote. “How about the police giv[ing] us GEOTAGs or track[ing] the car using your navigation system already installed in your car?”
Auto thefts fueled by TikTok
New York City auto thefts have reached a 16-year high, mirroring a nationwide uptick in carjackings, according to NYPD data.
A TikTok trend that encourages users to steal Kias and Hyundais seems to be driving the recent spike in car hijackings, Mayor Adams said. The “Kia Challenge” encourages would-be thieves to hijack Hyundai and Kia vehicles by using a USB cord to exploit a vulnerability in the cars’ designs. The challenge has racked up 5.3 billion views on TikTok.
NYPD officers recorded 104 Hyundai thefts and 99 Kia thefts last December, the NYPD reported. By comparison, just 12 Hyundais and 10 Kias were reported stolen in September of that same year.
Car thefts have reached their highest level nationwide since 2008, according to a November data analysis by the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Motor vehicle thefts across 30 major cities have increased by 59% from 2019 to 2022, according to an analysis by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ).
The rise in thefts corresponds to the rising value of used vehicles and car parts, which surged due to a pandemic-driven shortage of new cars, according to a report from Deloitte.