NEWARK, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey's biggest city is facing a growing problem of car thefts and more and more young people are being found behind the wheel of the stolen cars.
The Newark Auto Theft Unit has been in overdrive since beginning the initiative last month and aggressively sending a message to car thieves that these crimes will be punished.
The most troubling part of the rising trend is the number of juveniles caught in stolen cars.
That disturbing fact played out last weekend when a 15-year-old boy was caught in a stolen car May 9 and on May 8, three juveniles - a 16-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy -- were caught in a stolen car.
On Mother's Day, near the corner of Van Ness and Clinton, a 15-year-old car thief hit a pedestrian and took off. He returned and was arrested.
The city is trying to persuade teens to steer away from crime.
"Get the youth involved in more things with the police department so that we can try to get the crime rate back down again," said Marianne Brown with Newark Community Street Team.
The trend is not only taking place in Newark. Auto thefts have been on the rise in the Tri-State since last year and vehicle owners have been told to be aware.
"So we're asking the public to please lock up your car door, turn the car off, take the keys with you," Brown said. "You know we don't need to entice the juveniles into crime any more than necessary."
So far in Newark, there have been 110 arrests this year which is up 34% from last year.
One suspect taken into custody in a stolen vehicle was 24-year-old Rodney Wrice, a suspect in an earlier shooting who was arrested Friday on Quitman Street with a gun in the car.
Newark's police director said in a statement, "Newark Police are diligently seeking to recover stolen vehicles and will arrest those found inside stolen vehicles."
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