CLEVELAND — The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office is warning the public about recent car thefts and purse-snatchings in several cities on Cleveland's West Side.
Thirteen teens were busted in connection with a series of 17 stolen cars, and 25 cases of items stolen from cars in West Side suburbs and neighborhoods of Cleveland, officials with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office said at a news conference Friday.
These crimes occurred between Jan. 7 and Feb. 21 and do not include the 80 car break-ins that occurred in Cleveland Heights and on the East Side.
There has been a “growing” number of cases since January, officials said, warning people not to leave items in their car and to be aware of surroundings.
“This can happen in a heartbeat," said Cuyahoga County Proseuctor Michael O'Malley. "When people see these videos on television tonight, they're going to picture themselves in that situation and they're going to realize, yeah, I pump gas and I leave my purse on the seat. You know what? People do it all the time."
The prosecutor’s office said the crimes were reported in Parma Heights, Middleburg Heights and Lakewood.
Investigators believe five of the teens were responsible for most of the West Side thefts, but said Friday that a number of others were recruited to take part in the other crimes.
O'Malley believes it's important to warn the community because investigators think other groups of teens are operating similar rings.
"Criminal activity is a learned behavior," O'Malley said. "These activities spread. We're seeing it on both sides of our county."
Investigators said in many cases the stolen cars were being used in other crimes and stolen items were being sold online.
"They were looking to turn that property, sell it on various apps, quickly after taking possession of it," said Juvenile Division Chief Brett Kyker.
He said a number of the teens were arrested after using stolen electronics. Investigators said others were caught after they used stolen credit cards.