Carjacking questions. We get a lot of ‘em.
So, as vehicular hijackings are being reported even more frequently in 2021 than during 2020’s disaster, let’s take a minute here to answer a few of the more common inquiries.
Why are there so many carjackings?
Chicago police are blaming gangs and the widespread use of masks during the COVID pandemic for last year’s 135% increase in carjacking cases. (Hopefully, you’re getting a good laugh out of the mask-blaming. We did.)
Beat cops we’ve spoken with say one reason for the increase is that carjacking crews are committing two, three, four, and sometimes even more hijackings in a matter of hours.
The carjackers, who are usually young and often juveniles, are taking the cars for recreation. It’s fun for them.
In Lincoln Park on Friday, a carjacking team took a car at gunpoint in the 1100 block of West Montana around 7 p.m. Less than 20 minutes later, they abandoned the stolen car and carjacked another driver in the 400 block of West Roslyn.
Monday evening, armed men took a car at gunpoint in Chinatown. That car was found abandoned less than 30 minutes later.
But some carjacked rides are retained by hijackers who use them to commit other crimes.
In an email to her constituents last week, Lincoln Park Alderman Michele Smith (43rd), a former federal prosecutor, pointed to a lack of consequences as another reason for the city’s hijacking problem.
“Juveniles are highly involved in carjackings,” Smith wrote. “Unfortunately, Illinois changed the law in 2016 so that arrests for armed carjacking are no longer treated as automatically adult crimes. An effort to change the law I championed in 2018 failed in Springfield. Since then, carjackings by juveniles have skyrocketed.”
What kinds of cars are being taken?
There aren’t any official tabulations. Dodge Chargers and Audi models seem to be popular targets. But all kinds of cars have been taken. Uber and Lyft drivers are absolutely being targeted by carjackers who order rides via stolen phones. Recently, there have been quite a few rental cars taken, too.
Where and when are the carjackings taking place?
You might think the carjackings are more common late at night, but that’s not the case.
Through January 11, roughly half of Chicago’s carjackings this year took place between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to CPD records.
So far this year, the West Town community area, which includes Wicker Park and Bucktown, ranks second in the city for carjackings. The Austin neighborhood ranks first.
No other North Side or downtown community areas are near the top of the list. North Lawndale, Roseland, and Chicago Lawn round out the top five.
How can people stay safe?
Well, first, let’s share some fantastic advice from a woman who was recently targeted by a robbery and carjacking crew in Lakeview.
“Tell people to be vigilant as they’re getting in and out of their cars,” she warned, saying she and her boyfriend were targeted “right outside our apartment” as they walked to their car.
Often, drivers are sitting idling cars or recently-parked vehicles when carjackers move in.
Some recent victims believe carjackers followed them before committing the hijacking. So, pay attention if you notice a car that seems to be shadowing you in traffic.
Uber and Lyft have not responded to multiple emails from CWB seeking advice for drivers concerned about being lured into carjackings via the apps. An active carjacking pattern involving rideshare drivers in Wicker Park involves offenders who have been seen getting out of another vehicle when the victim driver arrives at the pick-up location. So, if you’re a rideshare driver and you see your fare getting out of a car when you arrive, you may want to exercise care.
Chicago police recently released several recommendations:
- Keep your doors locked with the windows rolled up
- When stopped in traffic, leave room between your car and the vehicle in front of you so you can leave quickly, if necessary
- Park in well-lit areas
- Be alert as you walk to your car and be alert for suspicious people sitting in cars
The CPD tips also refer to “bump and rob” carjackings.
“It works like this,” the Los Angeles Police Department explains, “a car, usually with a driver and at least one passenger, rear-ends or ‘bumps’ you in traffic. You quickly get out to check the damage and exchange information. Either the driver or one of the passengers jumps in your car and drives off.”
“If you’re bumped by another car, look around before you get out,” LAPD advises. “If the situation makes you uneasy, memorize or jot down the car’s tag number and description. Signal the other car to follow you. Drive to the nearest police station or to a busy, well-lighted area.”
“If you do get out of the car, take your keys and purse or wallet…with you and stay alert,” the California agency warns.