KPD e-News Release: Multijurisdictional Motor Vehicle Theft and Auto Burglary Investigation Recovers over Half Million Dollars in Stolen Property, Identifies 8 Suspects (Nearly All Juveniles), Felony Charges Pending (Update)

Kingsport Police Department

Dale Phipps, Chief of Police

200 Shelby Street • Kingsport, TN 37660

SUBJECT: Multijurisdictional Motor Vehicle Theft and Auto Burglary Investigation Recovers over Half Million Dollars in Stolen Property, Identifies 8 Suspects (Nearly All Juveniles), Felony Charges Pending (Update)
DATE: August 15, 2022
CASE #: Multiple
Update: The Kingsport Police Department has received several citizen inquiries regarding unclaimed property recovered during the recent motor vehicle theft and auto burglary investigation. Please be advised that all previously stolen vehicles and other properties that have been recovered during this investigation to date have been returned to their rightful owners.

As previously released:

Over the past month, the Kingsport Police Department Criminal Investigations Division has been investigating a series of coordinated motor vehicle thefts and auto burglaries occurring throughout the City of Kingsport and surrounding jurisdictions. From July 1, 2022 to the present, nearly 50 motor vehicle thefts and over 120 auto burglaries have been reported.

The massive scope of this investigation has necessitated a large-scale multi-jurisdictional cooperative effort, involving hundreds of man-hours, in partnership with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Johnson City Police Department, the Mount Carmel Police Department, the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office, and other area law enforcement agencies.

Detectives discovered that two rings of criminals, operating completely independent of one another, were responsible for the vast majority of these crimes. In all, eight total suspects have been identified, seven of whom are juveniles between the ages of 13 and 15. The sole adult suspect just turned 18 year of age. Extensive criminal charges are pending and will include such offenses as multiple counts of Motor Vehicle Theft, Auto Burglary, Vandalism, and Possession of Stolen Firearms.

Just as significant, Investigators have cleared over 100 cases, and recovered over a half million dollars ($527,500) in stolen property, which includes 33 of the stolen vehicles and 5 of the stolen firearms.

“While several agencies and individuals played significant roles in this investigation, I want to specifically recognize Detective Robbie Mills and Detective Jason Powers of the K.P.D. Criminal Investigations Division for their personal contributions to this case,” said K.P.D. Chief of Police Dale Phipps. “Their hard work and tireless dedication is noticed and appreciated.”

It is extremely important to point out that every single vehicle that was stolen had been left unlocked, with the key either in the actual vehicle or easily accessible nearby. And every single vehicle that was burglarized was also unlocked. None of the vehicles were forcibly entered. The criminals did not use any specialized tools, skills, or high-tech gadgetry to access these vehicle. They simply opened unlocked doors.

Not only was this obvious by the lack of any sign of forced entry, but it was also corroborated by statements made by the suspects, and confirmed by surveillance video footage. The suspects walked from vehicle to vehicle, lifting door handles. If the vehicle was locked, they walked away. If the vehicle was unlocked, they burglarized it. If the unlocked vehicle also had the key in it, they stole it.

This common criminal technique of actively searching for, and only targeting, unlocked vehicles is known as “car hopping,” a term promulgated on social media and actually uttered by the suspects themselves during interviews with Detectives.

As such, the Kingsport Police Department continues to stress the importance of utilizing simple, common-sense, crime prevention measures to help prevent these types of crimes from occurring.

· Never leave your vehicle unlocked while unattended.

· Never leave the key (or electronic key fob) inside your parked and unoccupied vehicle.

· Never leave your car key (or electronic key fob) in an unsecure location.

· Never leave your vehicle running unless you are actually in it.

· Never leave items of real or perceived value in plain sight inside your vehicle.

“By imploring citizens to practice these basic strategies, we are absolutely not blaming the victims of these crimes,” stressed K.P.D. Public Information Officer Tom Patton. “These crimes are the responsibility of the criminals and the criminals alone; however, it is incumbent upon all law abiding citizens to do their part in helping prevent these crimes of opportunity from happening, especially if it is something as simple as locking a door.”

Due to the active nature of this investigation, the pending charges, and the involvement of juvenile suspects, no further details can or will be released at this time.

Thomas M. Patton, Public Information Officer

Kingsport Police Department Professional Standards Unit

423-229-9433 (Desk) • 423-343-9749 (FAX)


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