In an effort to stop the rash of Kia and Hyundai vehicles stolen in Brooklyn Park, police last week gave away free steering-wheel locks to help owners protect their wheels.
The Police Department's crime prevention unit reached out to the manufacturers and asked them to donate the anti-theft devices, which immobilize the steering wheel. The companies came through, providing the department with 100 locks to give away.
"We try to find creative ways to serve our citizens," said Elliott Faust, a Police Department spokesman. "We are trying to shore up the issues with Kia and Hyundai vehicles being stolen."
Brooklyn Park has had a lot of car thefts. Last year, about 400 vehicles — an average of more than one a day — were swiped in the north metro city, and the trend has not slowed, Faust said.
Through the first two months of this year, police have taken 41 auto theft reports. Of those, five were Kia or Hyundai vehicles.
Faust said police were "racking our brains" for a way to solve the problem after 20 Kia and Hyundai vehicles went missing last summer. The vehicles have been popular targets since a group of teenagers working under the Kia Boyz hashtag discovered that certain Kia and Hyundai models were easy to steal, and began documenting the thefts on social media.
The videos fueled a trend that has swept the nation, and has even led some insurance companies to decline policies for certain models of those makes.
In response, Hyundai on Feb. 14 began offering a free anti-theft software upgrade to prevent vehicles without push-button ignitions from starting. The 2017-2020 Elantra, 2015-2019 Sonata and 2020-2021 Venue will be the first models to get the software, with other models eligible beginning in June, the company said.
Additionally, Hyundai has distributed more than 30,000 steering-wheel locks to law enforcement across the country in the past year, said company spokesman Ira Gabriel.
Kia has also been releasing enhanced security software to restrict the unauthorized operation of vehicle ignition systems on certain models not equipped with an immobilizer, said spokesman James Bell.
The company gave locking devices to Brooklyn Park and will "continue to do so with any law enforcement agency that reaches out with similar interest for their local community," Bell said. "The company remains concerned about incidents of car theft targeting certain Kia models."
Brooklyn Park resident Divine Enongo had one of her Hyundai vehicles stolen and a second one damaged by would-be thieves last month. She was happy to receive two locks, but said, "I hope they [thieves] will leave me alone."
Brooklyn Park was one of the first agencies to ask for the locks. Faust said the department reached out to Kia and Hyundai five months ago and got the 100 devices to give away to drivers this month.
On Friday, the department called 30 Brooklyn Park residents who had their Kia or Hyundai vehicles stolen and gave them first chance to pick up one of the locks. With 70 left to distribute, the department advertised the initiative on its Facebook page on Friday and expanded the offer to residents who owned any type of vehicle.
By Monday, the crime prevention unit's voice mail box was full and there were 40 emails with requests. All the locks were claimed.
"It was quite the hit," Faust said. "We figured that would be the case."
He isn't sure if the city will get more steering-wheel locks to give away, but said he is hopeful.
"It's a cool program we are doing," Faust said. "If just one person doesn't become a victim, then it is a success."