COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Less than three weeks into 2023, police have identified what is proving to be one of the most common crimes in central Ohio, especially among juvenile offenders: car thefts.

Nearly 400 cars have been stolen in the greater Columbus area since Jan. 1, according to police reports. This week, Clinton Township Police have dealt with two of the more high-profile situations. The township’s police chief, Michael Jones, said the problem is a societal issue.

“It’s not a Franklin County thing, it’s not a Columbus only thing — this is an everywhere thing,” Jones said.

Every day, officers are handling reports of stolen cars, Jones said. On Tuesday, it was a Clinton Township officer who found a car stolen from Northland with a 1-year-old baby inside. Both the car and the baby returned safely to their family.

But Jones said some stolen car situations turn reckless — like a situation that happened near Morse Road Wednesday. Jones said one of his officers saw a silver Hyundai driving at a high speed on Cleveland Avenue.

“Very briefly after the officer turned on the lights and sirens he started out the car accelerating at an even higher rate and he was at a point where he was going to disengage because he knew it was getting too dangerous.”

He said the car eventually crashed. One of the teenagers inside was hit by oncoming traffic while trying to run away. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition but has since been upgraded to stable.

“There’s no reset button,” Jones said. “When you’re seriously injured or you get killed or you kill people because of your actions in these vehicles those are real life consequences, and I don’t think that’s setting in for some folks.”

Jones said their license plate and vehicle system — which helped locate the stolen car on Tuesday — has hit about 200 stolen cars or plates so far this year. He said this problem needs to be fixed, but the severity of these situations has made him and other officers question how to make that happen.

“Everyone wants to come together. There’s been meetings after meetings, you know, political leaders coming together across Franklin County, but the issue is everyday this is still occurring,” Jones said. “And what’s going to be the end result, a lot of times it’s going to be a tragedy that we can’t hit a reset button on.”

Jones said the majority of the car thefts they are seeing are still of Kias and Hyundais.