The hidden costs of car theft
“The NasKarz program steps up and competes for these kids and the quality and future of their lives”
We don’t know the accumulated costs when a kid steals a car. We also don’t know what the combined costs of the justice system, the judge, bailiff, court clerks, and lawyers are when a kid is caught, arrested and charged.
What we do know from ICBC is that one stolen car costs the corporation an average of $4000 and that owners of a stolen car have to pay a $300 deductible. We also know that costs quickly add up if a kid is stealing three or four vehicles a night.
In terms of human cost, there were several youth who died while joyriding on a reserve in the Chilliwack area. 15-year-old Kyle Tait, who was a passenger in a stolen SUV, was killed by a police officer in New Westminster who shot at the car, saying the kids were using the car as a weapon. How many other lives are lost or damaged because of car theft?
We suspect that risky car behaviors escalate among the at-risk youth.
“We went from zero to eight kids in the community that were stealing cars”
“Then we went from eight to 16 in no time.”
The late John Turvey, the iconic youth worker who founded the Downtown East side Youth Activities Society, used to say: “Who is out there competing for at-risk kids’ attention? If it’s not trustworthy adults in the community, it’s pimps, predators, gang members, drug dealers, hardened criminals and car thieves.”
Competing for kids atention
The NasKarz Program steps up and competes for these kids and the quality and future of their lives.
“Many of kids will originally say ‘no’ to pimps and drug dealers, but it is a lot harder to say ‘no’ to a friend who says, ‘get into the car’ because they often don’t see themselves as the one who is actually stealing it,” Vasiljević explains.
“In our experience car theft is spontaneous, opportunistic, and social. Once they are infected with the virus, they realize that rush, they experience freedom and their needs being met, and then they are dedicated to it. It’s a delayed decision based on the benefits they perceive from the car theft, joy riding experience. And, there is not a whole lot of research done on this.”
Dennis St. Aubin is ICBC’s Manager for Auto Crime Strategies. Part of his job is to keep abreast of what’s new in worldwide academic journals and the field. He was asked by ICBC’s president to review a letter that Alex Vasiljević had written to the corporation. St. Aubin already knew about Australia’s Project U -Turn, a program there that uses go-carting to divert teenagers away from car theft.
“Of the kids who were known car thieves, a high percentage of them stopped stealing through the U -Turn Program. Of those who were at risk to be passengers in stolen cars the vast majority did not become involved during or after the Project U -Turn program,” St. Aubin says.
“Vasiljević was proposing what was going in Australia,” St. Aubin says. “I know from experience that research about successful programs carries a ton of weight. I saw that we could prevent a long string of activities that were expensive to the system, and that started our collaboration.”
Christopher Drozda, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, is the rare exception here who has taken on such examination. Because Drozda had done a study of six kids in Winnipeg who were known car thieves he approached ICBC, saying there was a need for a program to deal with similar youth here.
St. Aubin suggested he talk to Ray-Cam.
Why kids steal cars
Chris was blown away that there was something in place for these kids,” Vasiljević says. “And we were thrilled to hear about his research.”
Drozda’s study called “Juveniles Performing Auto Theft: An Exploratory Study into a Deviant Leisure Lifestyle” found that “kids steal cars based upon two situations: for love of the drive and for sneaky thrills.”
“Love of the drive kids are the kind of kids that steal to be able to drive a car. Car culture: it’s very important and masculinity plays a role,” Drozda says. “The second category is the sneaky thrills type; they were stealing because they got a thrill out of the criminal aspect.
“The groups are slightly different,” Drozda says. “The ones who do the love of the drive are not going to hit a long stretch of recidivism unless they get stuck in the lifestyle, but there’s not that criminal intent. The other kids are trying to one up each other. And, both groups have an aspect of utility to the behavior; it’s a way to get to parties or to have a car for other criminal activities, such as shop lifting.”
His next finding reminds us that these car thieves really are still kids:
“There is a perception that they are able to control the risk factors when they steal these cars. They can steal one in 15 seconds, and they get a sense of accomplishment. They’re proud when they tell you about this technique they used, and that different cars require different techniques or tools to steal them and they know them all. There’s this belief that if they know the rules of taking a car they could control the risk.”
“One kid told me that you only keep a stolen car for 45 minutes because after that it gets into the police process and you can get caught,” Drozda says. “There is a hedonistic rush and a connection to what they are going through in the context of their lives. This is something they can accomplish and it counters the times they’ve been told they aren’t good at anything. With car theft, there is immediate gratification and motivation that you get something back from it.”
“Strangely enough I was thinking, wouldn’t it be great if there was a program or workshop where these kids who really do have a love for cars, and are good with their hands, that could be leisure type programs to learn to be a mechanic so they could experience accomplishments in a different, more healthy way?” Drozda says.
“And what’s so fascinating about Ray-Cam is that youth workers there strive to make an effort to include kids that have been disenfranchised from other centres. It’s a more inclusive culture of the area and of Ray-Cam itself.”
Drozda says that more conventional community centres in North America operate on a “drop in model” where kids connect to community for a couple of hours to play basketball or soccer, but those programs don’t necessarily include skill development.
A natural starting point
With NasKarz we’re starting to understand that a sense of inclusion is what is missing,” Vasiljević says. “Go-carting was a natural starting point because it is a legal way to learn driving skills and to have the opportunity to drive.”
“By getting kids involved in go-carting and keeping them in the program, we create an opportunity to bridge them into other positive achievements. For example, we have a number of kids, about 12 of them, that went from having no ID at all to having learners’ licenses, Social Insurance Numbers, and B.C. Identification.”
Vasiljević says that identification is the beginning of mainstreaming these kids. Few of their parents have identification because there is no car or car culture in their families.
And there is another aspect in which culture plays a big role.
There are two very vulnerable groups in the Downtown East side: immigrants and First Nations children. Immigrants are seen getting into cars much faster; they seem more driven to drive on their own. First Nations generally seem less motivated, and it takes a lot of money to own a car, so it’s what you prioritize.
According to Vasiljević, the situation on Native reserves is different because some kids believe that you don’t need a license to drive if the car belongs to someone in their family of origin or extended family.
Getting a driver’s license is a first step for at-risk kids. The second is to become employed.
“A Class Five driver’s license is a must in society today,” Vasiljević says, “and a Class Four is better.”
“Our goal is not just to get the kids a ‘new driver sticker,’ but to help them get to a full license as an employment skill. Many have a goal of being a delivery person, but when you are poor and have no license that goal seems impossible. We’re saying you can reach that goal and do it responsibly.”
More than prevention
The potential for the NasKarz program to provide community benefits goes well beyond prevention or rehabilitation.
“One of the things we’re hoping might be a long term benefit of this program is to develop a Community Car Coop,” Vasiljević says. “The idea is to use the cars that the kids rebuild to share among community members.”
He says a Community Car Coop would allow people to do things they can’t do on bus or afford to do in a taxi. Things such as take the family on a vacation, or carry larger grocery items since there are no large grocery stores in the area.
Beyond that, the cars that are fixed could be sold to create a social enterprise where the profits from the sales would be used to go back into the program, and to continue helping more kids.
For that to occur, provincial social services must do more for these kids, because community groups and residents are frustrated by the lack of response from the system.
The majority of these children have open case files with the Ministry of Children and Family Development. Once they begin to engage in high risk car behavior, they’re perceived as a risk to their peers in the community. Their ability to negatively influence and draw other kids into similar activities or even injure others often means they’re excluded or denied access to community programs or facilities.
Bringing such concerns to the MCFD has had limited success because it sees the issue as the justice system’s responsibility. But it is known that traditional police and justice system responses have had little success in curtailing or reducing car theft and joy-riding activities. This is because the same children and youth become repeat offenders who steal multiple vehicles. Ray-Cam doesn’t want them to get stuck in that lifestyle.
Vasiljević says “exclusion from the community programs escalates as youth become more involved in car theft. Exclusion alienates these youth, preventing them from participating and integrating fully in community activities.”
Breaking down barriers
Family dynamics, financial barriers, culture, and language can all impact children in ways where the he or she becomes socially isolated at school and excluded from extracurricular activities such as clubs or sports teams. Most of these kids are from lower income families that can’t afford or achieve the same access to opportunities, resources, purchasing power, or consumption standards, like the rest of us can. For example, not having the ability to pay for and join a sports program or swimming class, or not having a parent with the skills to help the child engage in those programs, are barriers that can keep kids from the mainstream.
Exclusion is what happens to these children. It’s not something they’ve chosen for themselves. Doing more for these kids appears to be defined by some in the MCFD as ‘wait long enough and there will be some other system that will take responsibility.
“Whatever social services’ job is, they need to be doing it,” Vasiljević says. “Whether it’s providing better supports for parents of these kids, providing parenting classes and life skills training, or taking charge of these high profile kids who are high-risk. They need to do more because these young, multiple offenders will not be helped by the justice system. Everybody is pointing their finger back at each other.”
“Ministry restrictions, limited resources, and often inadequate delivery systems mean community groups do not have the help that is needed to support the programs. There is a lack of capacity to safely include or help these children participate fully in community opportunities.
“More access to positive peers and role models increases the youths’ ability to access community, social, and economic benefits. That’s important because these kids don’t have regular starts in life or regular circumstances in which to grow up.”
“We’ll see different outcomes and we’ll see these kids being successfully extracted from street activity when we focus on inclusion, as well as developing and supporting more strategies such as NasKarz, and enhance resource capacity within, between, and outside of the traditional systems. We need to link these kids to community and community agencies, and our formal systems need to help us do that.”
Vancouver Police Detective Constable Tim Houchen says problems between the social services and justice systems “disenfranchise or prevent these kids’ re-connection to the main stream.”
“Building and bettering relationships between the two systems and taking ownership on both sides can cause positive change,” Houchen says.
“Before going into this whole program I realized that in one instance there were eight units of police boxing in kids from the original virus, which is much safer than high speed chases,” Vasiljević says. “Gratefully, Vancouver police are city and density conscious. They avoid the chase because they know there is a heightened risk of injuring or killing people when they are concentrated in a small area on the road and sidewalks.”
“Then in another incident there was a write up in the newspaper. The person the RCMP shot was ‘known to them’ and 15-year-old Kyle Tait died,” Vasiljević says. “Instead of saying this was a death that could and should have been prevented he was labeled as someone known to police.”
This upset Vasiljević as he was trying to get this project going. It reverberated throughout the neighbourhood. People knew the Kyle’s family. He become known in the community for a person he was not for the way he died, and kids in Downtown East side put up graffiti saying ‘Kyle Tait rest in peace.’
“I sent a letter to the New West Mayor and police saying this tragedy should not have happened. The kids and police connecting like that is the final stage of a tragedy that has been going on for years. We shouldn’t be at that point because many of these kids’ involvement in car theft can be prevented. We can tap into those kids with NasKarz because it’s a social opportunity for them. I never heard back.”
A reputation for innovation
“NasKarz has its advocates and heroes from the front lines: Det. Cst. Houchen from the VPD, St. Aubin from ICBC, and the professors at Vancouver Community College. What’s missing is a hero from the social services system, that singular person who will step up and sign on, and advocate for NasKarz within the Ministry of Children and Families. We know he or she is out there and this is our invitation for them to join us and help us prevent the preventable and save the savable.”
St. Aubin says: “Ray-Cam has a reputation for innovation. This will likely, in time, be one of those projects that they’ve brought in that will show great promise and be adopted elsewhere. And, the success of a project like this has huge potential for communities in BC that have this problem. If it works for Ray-Cam and kids in that community, it can work in other communities.”
St. Aubin says that Project U-Turn did expand and became a broader based program. Accordingly, Tasmania province in Australia has experienced a huge drop in auto theft. The same could happen with NasKarz; it could be duplicated and could have a strong, positive impact in our communities.