The Wilmington City Council is considering making parents pay for damages caused by their minor children who break into or damage cars.
Carjacking and thefts of personal belongings in cars has been a major problem in cities across the country, and Wilmington is no exception.
Some of this was sparked by a TikTok dare in which people – typically teenagers – break into cars, often documenting the process of hardwiring the vehicle to steal it.
Known as the “Kia Boyz TikTok Challenge,” as certain Kia and Hyundai models were particularly quick and easy to steal. The cars were targeted so much that the Wilmington Police Department gave away steering wheel locks to prevent thefts.
In Monday night’s Joint Finance & Economic Development and Public Safety Committee meeting, a resolution was introduced to address the problem.
Sponsored by District 6 Councilwoman Yolanda McCoy, chair of the Public Safety Committee, the resolution urges the Delaware General Assembly to enact legislation that would make parents liable for auto insurance deductibles in motor vehicle crimes.
“We’ve been having a surge of crime here within the city, which has been going on for some time,” McCoy said. “Now we realize that what’s happening is it’s minors who are taking part in most of these issues with vandalism to the cars, the stealing of the cars and things of that nature.”
The proposal would amend Delaware Code to mandate that when a minor has been found or pled guilty to criminal mischief, carjacking, theft or any crime that results in damage to or loss of a motor vehicle, the parents or guardian of that minor are liable to pay any deductible of the vehicle owner who submits an insurance claim for repair or replacement.
The liability to pay the deductible would have no impact or otherwise be included in the $10,000 limit on parental liability already established by law.
The law now says that “any municipal corporation, county, town, school district and agency of the state or any person, partnership, corporation or association, or any religious organization whether incorporated or unincorporated, is entitled to recover damages in an appropriate civil action in an amount up to $10,000 in a court of competent jurisdiction from the parents or guardians of any minor under the age of 18 years, living with the parents, who shall intentionally or recklessly destroy or damage property, real, personal or mixed, belonging to such municipal corporation, county, town, school district or agency of the state, or person, partnership, corporation or association or religious organization.”
In short, the proposed resolution would add to the law. The current law doesn’t say anything about insurance, focusing only on the parental liability in a civil lawsuit.
“With minors, we do not want to penalize them for the rest of their lives when it comes to this, whatever it is that they’re going through at this very moment,” McCoy said, “but someone needs to be held responsible for all the damage that has been done here within the city.”
McCoy said she’s had tons of constituents who’ve had their cars vandalized, many more than once.
“It continues to happen, so we need the parents’ help,” McCoy said. “I don’t know whether or not we’ve tried to have any type of intervention, but this was my idea to try to intervene.”
She said the children committing these crimes are “bored and reckless” and she doesn’t want the hard working people of the city to feel taken advantage of.
She pointed out that car insurance rates have skyrocketed, so when these break-ins and incidents of vandalism occur, it creates a huge financial burden on the victim.
District 7 Councilman Chris Johnson, chair of the Finance Committee, suggested amending the resolution to indicate that this liability is separate from restitution ordered by a judge in juvenile court.
District 2 Councilwoman Shané Darby asked if there was an option for a direct payment for a broken part, rather than paying for a deductible and going through the insurance process.
McCoy said yes. For example, if it’s cheaper for a victim to just pay $200 per se to replace a broken window, a liable parent could just do that rather than having the victim go through the insurance process and pay a deductible.
Darby argued it won’t be beneficial to add financial punishments to families who are already impoverished, and said that could actually lead to more crimes.
“Because most of the time, the people who are breaking into cars, the young boys around here, they come from poor neighborhoods,” Darby said. “ So now you‘re expecting a family who can barely put food on their table to pay, when most of the kids are not breaking into these cars for fun, they’re breaking in it to take stuff.”
She said adding a financial punishment creates a trickle-down effect of cyclical poverty.
Darby said she doesn’t know what the answer is, but does not think it should be a short-term financial fix and said a deeper systematic answer must be found.
McCoy said she understood the concern of creating a deeper financial challenge for families. But, she said, there needs to be some sort of intervention to address this behavior, especially when many of the minors are repeat offenders.
Darby said it’s not that parents don’t care about their child’s behavior, and that sometimes it’s an act of survival.
McCoy stated that she will not be moving forward with her resolution at this time.
Attempts Tuesday morning to reach the New Castle County Police Department and the Wilmington Police Department for comment were unsuccessful.
However, the New Castle County Police have sent out several press releases over the past few months related to car thefts.
From July 17 to October 17 of 2023, New Castle officers responded to 220 vehicle thefts, making 51 arrests, in which 44 were juvenile offenders.
A 14-year-old male and a 17-year-old male were arrested on Oct. 26, 2023 following a vehicle theft investigation in Wilmington.
On Nov. 13, 2023, New Castle officers arrested and charged four teenagers for crimes related to stolen cars.
In just the first two weeks of November, 2023, New Castle police arrested eight juveniles with multiple counts of vehicle theft and related charges, all between the ages of 14 and 17.
On Nov. 19, 2023, the department arrested three teenagers after a car theft and pursuit in Wilmington.
On Dec. 28, 2023, officers arrested four teens in Wilmington after another vehicle theft investigation.
Many of the thefts involved Kia and Hyundai models, even though both brands have been bringing in the cars to update their equipment.
New Castle County Police has offered these tips to protect from car theft:
- Lock your doors, as part of your 9 p.m. routine. “At 9 every night, you should lock all vehicles, residences, garages, windows, gates and sheds; secure or bring inside your tools, bikes, keys and other valuables; and activate exterior lights, security cameras and alarm systems, according to Family Safety and Health.
- Remove your keys and spare keys from the vehicle.
- Ensure the wheel lock is properly installed.
- Make sure all windows are closed.
- Park in well-lit areas.
- Park near surveillance cameras.
- Install an audible alarm or motion-activated in-car camera.
- Install an additional tracking device.
- Don’t leave valuables in your car.
- Don’t leave your car running unoccupied.
- Be alert.
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
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