DAVENPORT- Quad City police tonight are alerting the public about an alarming spike in car thefts, and the majority of the thieves are kids.
"The most prevalent group of suspects in stolen vehicles is 12 to 18 years of age. The youngest was 11," said Davenport Police Chief Paul Sikorski.
Area police chiefs and sheriffs from both sides of the river held a rare joint news conference in Davenport on Friday, launching a "Lock It Up" initiative to get people to lock their cars to discourage the extreme jump in vehicle thefts here.
"In Davenport alone, we've experienced an 81 percent increase in stolen vehicles comparing the first quarter of 2016 to the first quarter of 2017," Chief Sikorski said.
In all, over the past 15 months, close to 750 cars and trucks have been stolen. The trend, now a dangerous public safety issue.
"These unlicensed juveniles sometimes are barely able to see over the dashboard, they will flee from police through busy intersections and residential neighborhoods. If this continues, it's only a matter of time before there's a tragedy, " said Rock Island Police Chief Jeff Venhuizen.
"It's putting all citizens at risk and all of out officers at risk," said Capt. Keith Kimball, with the Bettendorf Police Department.
"It's almost like giving a loaded gun to an irresponsible person," he said.
When asked if the thieves were part of a car theft ring, authorities said no.
"I don't think its an organized crime ring. They're not taking them to sell them, they're not taking them to chop shops," said Chief Sikorski.
He said they are part of different groups, and maybe gangs, and said the stolen cars are being used to access more stolen cars, commit burglaries, drive-by shootings, and other crimes.
In some cases, the thieves then use the garage door openers to access the owner's home.
The Quad City coalition of police departments are working together to identify suspects, and press for prosecution.
One of the challenges, is the fact that the culprits are underage and subject to juvenile justice penalties.
Today's call to action was focused on prevention.
"Most stolen vehicles have been easy targets. Cars left running unattended, cars unlocked with keys in the car", said Chief Sikorski, while urging the public to lock their vehicles.
"Tragedy is staring us in the face and we can do something about it," he said.