SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The number of vehicles stolen locally and nationally has increased dramatically this year and often become a “gateway” to more serious crimes, the Onondaga County District Attorney tells NewsChannel 9.

In just the last week, two high-profile police cases began with stolen vehicles: the teen burglary suspects shot and killed by an Onondaga County Sheriff’s Deputy and the Oneida home explosion.

There are 615 reports of stolen vehicles in the City of Syracuse so far in 2023, publicly-available data from Syracuse Police shows.

That’s already more than the total number in all of 2022, not even into the fourth quarter of the year.

“It’s not only a number,” said District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick. “Think about the effect it has on the individuals involved, namely the victims.”

The person stolen from is without their mode of transportation, which Fitzpatrick says impacts their ability to get medical care, get to school, or work. Sometimes, car thefts result in victims of more serious crimes.

Fitzpatrick said, “A significant number of them are stolen to then be handed over to gang members, older gang members, to commit drive-by shootings and other nefarious acts throughout the county.”

The DA blames the cost-saving short-cut Kia and Hyundai took that leaves their products vulnerable, but he also blames New York State politics.

“I’m not Nostradamus,” said Fitzpatrick, “but when they passed ‘Raised The Age,’ I said you were going to see an increase in quality of life crimes, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

“Raise The Age” is the title of State laws that reform how criminal suspects of certain ages proceed through the legal system.

Local district attorneys and county criminal courts no longer have jurisdiction over 16 and 17-year-olds. When charged with misdemeanors, suspects of that age are assigned to Family Court. Felony charges go to a relatively new “Youth Part” of criminal court, staffed by a Family Court judge who influences if the charges are addressed in adult criminal court or Family Court.

“Family Court is not designed to punish car thieves,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s designed to reunite families. As good of quality people on the bench, if they don’t have services to provide to these kids, and kids know it, it’s only going to get worse until somebody in Albany wakes up and says we’ve got to change this.”

Fitzpatrick is not asking for “Raise The Age” or “bail reform” related policies to be thrown out but is looking for improvements and wants state lawmakers to fund the promised remediation programs.

“Would I like more funding for it? Yes, ” Fitzpatrick said. “But I would like them under the supervision of a criminal court judge, not a family court judge, where there’s no recognition of retribution. If you’re going to have a program, have it run by a person who understands some people need to be locked up.”