Gone in 20 seconds: Inside Christchurch’s youth car crime spree

About a dozen teenagers, some as young as 13 years old, are among Christchurch's most prolific car thieves as they seek the joyriding "rush". 

Mazda Familias are their primary target of choice, they teach themselves how to drive and, so honed are their car theft skills, it takes them 20 to 30 seconds to break in and go.  

The recent deaths of three boys in the group, who crashed a stolen car after fleeing police, then perished in the resulting "ball of fire" explosion, appear to have proved no deterrent. Some of the group stole cars on the day of the boys' funerals earlier this week, Stuff has learned.

Police said car thefts by youths in the city in recent months were a concern, while one criminologist called joyriding "extreme sport for poor kids". 

Brooklyn Turia Taylor, 13, and brothers Glen William McAllister, 16, and Craig Robert Hickey-McAllister, 13, were in a stolen Mazda Familia when the car, believed to be driven by Glen, hit road spikes as they fled police on Blenheim Rd on January 13. 

The car left the road, crashed at speed into a tree, the fuel tank ruptured and the car exploded. The heat was too intense for police to pull them out of the burning car, though two officer suffered smoke inhalation trying to help them. 

Stuff understands stealing cars was a weekly activity for the trio and, when working together, they could steal several cars in a night. 

'EXTREME SPORT FOR POOR KIDS'

Victoria University of Wellington criminology lecturer Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville said young offenders were attracted to joyriding stolen cars because it "releases boredom, it's a rush, a thrill". 

"The more affluent kids will go skydiving or snowboarding, but for the poorer kids who don't have access to those facilities or equipment, it's trainsurfing, it's roof jumping, it's joyriding." In short, an "extreme sport for poor kids".

Sergeant Jeff Alford, of the Canterbury Youth Crime Unit, agreed teens stole cars for the sense of freedom and control.

"It also gives them a mode of transport to link up with others around the city."

While Alford was unable to comment on the three boys who died, he said police were concerned by the number of cars youths were stealing, but moreover their engaging in police pursuits and the risk they posed to themselves and the public.

In one recent incident, he spoke with a teenage girl who was "buzzing" after she crashed after a police pursuit where she reached speeds of between 120kmh to 150kmh.

"She kept saying to me, 'that was so exciting'. It's clearly something they're happy to engage in because of the excitement it produces."

Police had noticed a greater prevalence of teenage girls stealing cars, he said. 

FAMILIES 'POWERLESS'

Alford said several of the three boys' friends promised him they would never steal a car again after their deaths. Only days later some of the group were picked up in stolen cars.

Staying consistent was key, Alford said. "It's about investigating and charging at every opportunity so we can bring it to the attention of the courts and other agencies."

Police Association President Chris Cahill said most youth criminals came from dysfunctional families "with serious family harm and violence issues".

"It is frustrating without a doubt dealing with the same youths night after night ... releasing them back into the care of Oranga Tamariki and then have them out there doing it the next night, but short of locking them all up in secure care facilities, how do you prevent that?"

WHAT HAPPENS TO YOUTH OFFENDERS

Most children aged 10 to 13 who commit crimes are dealt with by police. They might have to write an apology letter and pay for damage they caused.

When their crimes are more serious, a family group conference is organised, where the child, family members or carers and an Oranga Tamariki youth justice coordinator discuss why the child offended, how to make amends and set goals.  

Generally those who are charged are aged 14 to 16 years old and appear in the Youth Court, which can place them in a youth justice residence.

Cahill said "generational change" was required. "A lot of the time you've got to get to these kids when they're 8 to 10 and turn things around then. By the time they're 12 to 14 and out stealing cars it's already too late."

Source: Sam Sherwood, Jan 25, 2019, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/110168224/gone-in-20-seconds-inside-christchurchs-youth-car-crime-spree