Children and teens, some as young as 12, are behind a "significant" spike in vehicle thefts, ram raids and some burglaries in the district, a local police officer says.
The officer fears a young person offending could be seriously hurt or die.
Western Bay of Plenty and Waikato police are working in tandem to turn the tables on the rise in vehicle thefts in the wider Bay of Plenty and in the Waikato districts, launching Operation Pryor to target these crimes.
Since February 1, 80 offenders have been arrested and more than $100,000 of stolen goods recovered.
The Bay of Plenty Times previously reported there had been 7691 car thefts in the Bay of Plenty in the past two years.
Thieves were targeting Mazda Demio, Nissan Tiida, Toyota Aqua, Toyota Corolla, Mazda Atenza and Subaru Legacy without alarm system or steering wheel locks.
Inspector Phil Gillbanks, Bay of Plenty police district manager for Youth, Community and Family Harm, said these vehicles were "predominantly" stolen by young people and used for joy-riding, committing aggravated burglaries of liquor stores, dairies and big retail stores.
He said a "significant number" of young people had been "apprehended" in the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato districts in recent months.
"Some offenders are as young as 12, which raises major concerns for me and all police staff about the safety of these children, their passengers and the public."
Gillbanks said he and all police staff shared a huge concern that young people committing these crimes would end up seriously hurt or "worse, die" if they crashed a stolen vehicle.
"Unfortunately, we also have social media to contend with, and some young people like to brag about what they have done which can lead to copycat offending.
"The last thing we want to be doing is knocking on the door of a parent of another young person who has stolen a vehicle for whatever reason, lost control and crashed it."
Gillbanks urged owners to always secure their vehicles.
"The community must be part of the solution by taking added preventative measures to make their cars far less attractive targets.
"We also need members of the public to truly be our eyes and ears so that we can intervene much earlier and prevent more victims from being targeted."
He said the young offenders came from different backgrounds and an arrest was the first step in a long journey of dealing with them.
"That journey also includes police working closely with the young person's whānau and other agencies to put in place control measures and preventative actions.
"We can't just lock them up and throw away the key. There is a tremendous amount of work coming up with the right measures to help change a young person's life course and keep them safe. And it's not always an easy fix."
Crime prevention was everyone's responsibility, he said.
"Even if we had 1000 more police we would still need the community's help to be our eyes and ears on the ground.
"I urge anyone seeing something suspicious including someone too young to be behind the wheel, two or three vehicles travelling in convoy, driving dangerously or erratically to call *555 immediately."
Waipuna Hospice's Mount Maunganui charity shop was hit by thieves who stole thousands of dollars of stock and damaged the store overnight on March 19.
Waipuna Hospice chief executive Richard Thurlow said no arrests had been made, which was "very frustrating", but the offenders captured on CCTV wore dark hooded clothing.
He said targeting a charity shop that used profits to support terminal cancer patients was beyond low.
"As a charity, we're already operating on a tight budget and, like many other charities, we are fundraising with one hand tied behind our backs. This feels like a kick in the guts."
Thurlow urged anyone with information about the break-in to call the police.
"We cannot do what we do without our shop income. I feel sad that people don't want to get involved in reporting these crimes and help keep our community safe.
"Hopefully, someone will have seen the error of their ways and they won't do it again."
Western Bay of Plenty Neighbourhood Support manager Bruce Banks said he echoed Gillbanks' pleas.
Banks said most districts in the country were experiencing the same issues and this was a "community problem".
"Any suggestion that the police are not doing enough to catch these offenders or prevent these crimes is so far from the truth."
Banks said this sort of rhetoric being posted all over social media is the catalyst to only "inflame" the problem not prevent it.
"If you see something please do something. If people react better then the police will have a far better chance of catching offenders and deterring crime. Police need the intel from the community, they cannot do it alone.
"Crime prevention is everybody's problem and we all need to be part of the solution."
Anyone with information about stolen vehicles or goods should call the police at 105 or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Crime prevention tips
1. Invest in an anti-theft system to immobilise your car such as a steering wheel lock;
2. Giving the impression that you have an alarm system will sometimes deter thieves - stickers on windows or flashing LEDs on the dashboard can be all it takes;
3. Always lock your car;
4. Never leave keys in your unattended car;
5. Have house keys on a separate keychain;
6. Avoid leaving valuables in your car;
7. Always keep car doors locked at night.
Source: NZ Police