GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — If your vehicle was stolen within Kentwood last month, there’s a good chance it was either a Kia or a Hyundai.

Kentwood had 37 vehicle thefts in May. Twenty-six of those vehicles were either one of the two brands.

According to Kentwood Police Capt. Jason Roelofs, high-volume traffic areas, like 28th Street, are fertile ground for vehicle thieves.

“It’s convenience stores, gas stations. It’s apartment complexes. We’re seeing it everywhere,” Roelofs said. “Some of them we’ve linked to some violent crime in West Michigan.”

Like the stolen Hyundai used in the shooting of two people at an alternative high school graduation outside the city, at East Kentwood High School in May.

This problem is not unique to West Michigan.

A documentary on so-called Kia Boys in Milwaukee shows the ease of stealing certain models of the brand with standard ignition, the kind that uses a key instead of a fob to start the car.

Thieves break of the steering column to get to the ignition and drive away.

“There’s this knowledge now about this flaw and they’re taking advantage of that,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Eric Brunner said.

And the suspects are young.

In the Kentwood cases, they range in age from 13 to 15.

Local detectives are working to stop the thefts.

“But just the sheer numbers, it’s a lot going on right now. The majority of the time, they do just leave the car, and they look for the next car to steal,” Roelofs said.

It’s also adding to the disturbing trend in the overall volume of auto thefts in West Michigan.

“2020 over 2019, we saw a 111% increase just in stolen vehicles,” Brunner said. “Sixteen out of 20 days, just in this past few weeks, we’ve taken a stolen vehicle report.”

And of the 25 stolen vehicle reports so far this month to the sheriff’s department,15 were Hyundai or Kia vehicles. Since May 1, the city of Grand Rapids has had 122 thefts involving the two brands.

The documentary also shows the other dangers created by the thefts.

Along with some of the crimes committed by the thieves in the stolen cars, there’s also concern for other drivers who may encounter them.

“They have no regard for or care and concern for that vehicle or other people’s safety,” Brunner said. “They’re very reckless in the use of those vehicles and the crimes that they are committing. Very brazen.”

The Combined Auto Theft Team, made up of detectives from Grand Rapids, Kentwood and Wyoming, has put out a list of suggestions that may thwart vehicle theft.

They include:

  • Park in well-lit areas near buildings and/or cameras
  • Park in a garage if possible
  • Always remove valuables from your vehicle
  • Always lock your vehicle
  • Activate the alarm system on your vehicle
  • Use a locking mechanism on your vehicle (column collars, steering wheel locks or brake locks)
  • If you have home surveillance cameras, park in the camera view if possible
  • If you see something, say something – report all suspicious activity

They’re also warning that the thieves can be extremely dangerous, so don’t try to stop them.

And if you see something, say something by calling 911.

You can also submit anonymous tips through Silent Observer at 616.774.2345 or