Cities Crack Down on Carjackings

By: - February 23, 2021 12:00 am

Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown, left, and Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan prepare to address reporters last month on the rise in carjackings in Chicago and surrounding communities. Carjackings in some cities and counties nationwide have shot up during the pandemic. Tyler LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times via The Associated Press

Two major cities have beefed up their efforts to go after carjackers, who have proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police Department created a task force this month to address a rise in carjackings and auto thefts. And Chicago is increasing the number of officers investigating the crimes.

The D.C. department assigned a dedicated group of detectives who specialize in robberies and violent crimes to its new team. The District of Columbia has been hit hard by carjackers this past year. Police data shows that between March and mid-October 2020, carjackings and attempted carjackings rose to 193 from 89 during the same period in 2019—a 117% increase.

In the past few months, those numbers have surged.

Between Jan. 1 and Feb. 21, 2020, there were 11 cases, according to police spokesperson Alaina Gertz. In that same period this year, there have been 71—a 545% increase.

In Chicago, where the rise in carjackings has alarmed city officials, Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced late last month that the Chicago Police Department is adding 40 more officers to teams investigating carjackings. The department also will send detectives to meet with victims and witnesses immediately after the crimes.

Carjackings in Chicago jumped from 603 in 2019 to 1,415 in 2020, a 135% increase, according to a Chicago Tribune review of police data.

Carjackers take vehicles by force, often brandishing a weapon. They have struck at stoplights, parking garages and gas stations in some cities and counties, according to police. Other criminals have stolen idling delivery vehicles while drivers were picking up or delivering orders.

The FBI doesn’t break out carjackings or thefts of delivery drivers’ vehicles, so there is no national data showing how often these incidents occur. Many police agencies don’t track that information either.

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.