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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Auto thefts and car break-ins, many committed by juveniles, are driving up the crime rate in Memphis, police told City Council members Tuesday.

Crime in Memphis — it’s a problem that’s bad enough, one city council member said it’s gotten the attention of people who don’t live near the Bluff City.

“I just came back from traveling overseas and people even there were asking, what’s going on here in Memphis?” Councilman Jeff Warren said. “While I was gone, I think we had a police officer die from wound inflicted while in the line of duty, and still have other murders that have happened throughout the city.”

Chief C.J. Davis, along with other police top brass, gave council members an update on crime Tuesday.

The good news: the number of homicides appears to be lower this year.

In January of 2022, the city had 22 homicides. In 2023 we’re down by three to 19, police said.

But what’s driving overall crime in Memphis isn’t the homicide rate, but auto thefts and car break-ins. 

“What sticks out we’ve had 1,994 auto thefts as of yesterday,” Deputy Chief Joe Oakley said. “That’s an increase from 1,159 for 139 percent increase in auto thefts. That’s the main crime driver in the city.”

When it comes to car break-ins, there have been more than 1,300 this year. That’s 500 more than this time last year — and juveniles are responsible.  

“We know a lot of our young people are breaking into cars and stealing cars as, almost a dare, or a trend right now. They’re finding it easy to do,” Davis said.

Police say of the 175 arrests made for car thefts this year, 66% of those charged are 18 years old or younger.

Councilman Frank Colvett asked the chief, “What are we doing? Because this is something we’ve got to get control of sooner rather than later. What’s the Memphis police department’s plans?”

Davis says one possible solution is working even more closely with Juvenile Court to identify repeat offenders to keep them off the streets.