MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Police say it’s a growing problem — stealing cars to use to commit other crimes.
“Many of our crimes are being committed by individuals who have stolen a vehicle and committed the crime in that vehicle,” said Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis.
She called it a prevalent problem that’s helping criminals go undetected, but she hopes a new task force will break that cycle.
“The auto theft task force will be specifically working to reduce auto thefts and tracking individuals who are committing crime in stolen vehicles,” Davis said.
With her five-month-old in her arms, a woman dodged bullets in a Cordova neighborhood back in April.
Court records say Timothy Key opened fire when she confronted him for breaking into her car earlier this year. That same morning, police say he held two more people at gunpoint, demanded money and shot at them in southeast Shelby County.
Key reportedly committed the crimes in a car that had been reported stolen in northeast Memphis.
Investigators say he ditched the car in a Walmart parking lot — but it was the victim’s phone he dropped that helped connect the dots. He had apparently used it to call his parole officer.
If it weren’t for that phone, there’s no telling when they would have cracked the case.
WREG investigators first told you about the problem this summer when we sat down with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
“Most of the cars that are drag racing, reckless driving on the interstates, a lot of them are stolen. A lot of them, most of them, just about all of them, have a drive-out tag on them,” said Tobey Shaw, detective with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.
Detectives told us stolen cars — especially those with fake drive-out tags — only make it harder to link the car to the culprit.
Adding to the problem, oftentimes the stolen car is ditched after the crime, a new car is swiped and the cycle repeats itself.
The task force launched October 11 and is going after individuals and organized theft rings. MPD said it’s working with the Southaven, Bartlett and Collierville police departments, as well as the sheriff’s office and the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
WREG found out there have been more than a dozen arrests already. Sixteen stolen vehicles have been recovered, five more seized, and officers confiscated 10 weapons, including three stolen guns.
Chief Davis said they’re also trying to crack down on fake temporary tags. She says officers need training on how to better spot fake plates.
The Shelby County Clerk’s office said it hasn’t heard from MPD, but the state Department of Revenue said its special investigations unit worked with Memphis Police, the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement on October 14 to help them identify fake tags, and will provide additional training as needed.
Especially now that the tags are getting more sophisticated.
The sheriff’s office told us a lot of them look like the real deal. Fraudsters will photocopy a legit tag or use computer software, and then sell them on the internet for as cheap as $20.