Chicago community

“It’s a worrying trend.” Cities are seeing a surge in carjackings during the pandemic

By Peter Nickeas and Priya Krishnakumar, CNN

Carjackings have increased dramatically over the past two years in some of America’s largest cities.

Just outside Chicago, a state senator’s car and other valuables were taken at gunpoint in December, and a group of children, one of them n was only 10 years old, hijacked more than a dozen people. A carpool driver who was the victim of a carjacking shot his attackers earlier this month in Philadelphia. Last March, a 12-year-old boy in Washington, DC was arrested and charged with four counts of armed robbery.

“The majority of them are young riders. They don’t keep cars. They rob cars to commit another crime, usually more serious robberies or shootings, or walk around for social media and street credibility reasons,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Christopher Herrmann. “It’s a worrying trend.”

Comprehensive national data is not available because the FBI’s Crime Reporting System does not track carjackings. But major cities tracking crime reported increases in 2020 and 2021, especially as the pandemic gripped the country.

  • The number of carjackings has quadrupled in New York over the past four years, according to data released by the NYPD. The city recorded more than 500 carjackings in 2021, compared to 328 in 2020, 132 in 2019 and 112 in 2018.
  • Carjackings in Philadelphia nearly quadrupled between 2015 and 2021, according to figures released by the city’s police department. They recorded more than 800 last year, up from around 170 in 2015.
  • In New Orleans, there were 281 carjackings last year, down from 105 in 2018, the first year of available data. The city has also seen a string of carjackings this year, with the NOPD reporting 39 as of January 21.
  • More than 1,800 carjackings were reported in Chicago last year, the most of any major city, according to data released by police departments to CNN. Chicago’s tally in 2021 was the highest on record in 20 years. Carjackings had steadily declined in the city after 2001, reaching a low of 303 in 2014, but began to increase before soaring to 1,400 in 2020 after the pandemic began. Last year there were more than five times more carjackings than in 2014.

“We recognize the fear and uncertainty”

“It’s against the law,” said Raymond Lopez, an alderman for Chicago’s 15th Ward. “It doesn’t seem anarchic. He is.”

Chicago’s clearance rate for carjackings is low and has declined further during the pandemic. According to the University of Chicago Crime Lab, only 11% of carjacking offenses resulted in an arrest in 2020, compared to 20% in 2019. Only 4.5% of offenses resulted in bureau-approved charges of the state attorney.

Chicago, a city of 2.7 million, has had more than three times as many carjackings as New York, where the population is almost three times higher. Chicago police officials declined to comment.

Philadelphia police posted a message on Facebook telling residents they are making it a priority to resolve carjacking cases and that more officers have been dedicated to the task.

“We recognize the fear and uncertainty that these incidents bring, as the victims in these cases have affected nearly all demographic groups,” the statement said. “The PPD has deployed additional resources to investigate these incidents and apprehend the offenders.”

In December, Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D) was the victim of a carjacking at gunpoint in Philadelphia – a 19-year-old from Delaware was later arrested for the crime. Philadelphia media has reported that more than 100 carjackings have already taken place this year.

There are data tracking issues

Many cities don’t have data on carjackings because police departments often classify these crimes as robberies or assaults. It’s hard to understand the scale of the problem nationally because the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program, to which law enforcement voluntarily submits their crime data, does not track carjackings.

However, more and more agencies are beginning to track carjackings separately. Dallas began categorizing these crimes separately from thefts in its data last year and reported 453 carjackings in 2021. Last year, the DC Metropolitan Police Department created a dedicated task force to combat against carjacking and car theft. Reports of car thefts are also on the rise across the country and are tracked more reliably than carjackings.

Kim Smith, director of programs at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, says tracking crimes in greater detail is a key part of finding solutions.

“I think it’s important to be as specific as possible when you’re collecting crime data,” she told CNN. ” Who are the victims ? Where are things going? Many carjackings are done with a gun. If we’re trying to address gun violence, we need to be as specific as possible. »

More detailed reporting also makes it easier to spot trends and patterns — in its 2021 report, “How the Pandemic is Accelerating Carjackings in Chicago,” the Crime Lab found that the majority of carjackings were concentrated in the south and west sides of the city, where gun violence is disproportionately high. The majority of carjacking victims were black or Hispanic.

Smith says she hopes the details provided in the Crime Lab report can encourage officials in other cities to take a closer look at the circumstances in which these crimes occur. “There are a lot of things that surprised us in the analysis, and I think part of that is a call to action,” she said.

Some “emboldened to be repeat offenders”

Changing attitudes towards the juvenile justice system and Covid-related restrictions aimed at reducing the number of people in county jails or juvenile facilities have created a situation where accused felons who would normally be detained are free pending trial, experts said. CNN.

This created a “revolving door” situation where “some were encouraged to be repeat offenders,” said Milwaukee Police Department Chief Jeffrey Norman. “We’ve seen that at a higher level in 2020 and 2021.”

In Chicago, Lopez said people arrested and sent home on electronic monitoring sometimes reoffend while awaiting trial for something they were arrested for.

“It’s like the perfect storm, where all these soft on crime policies have come to a head during this pandemic,” he told CNN.

The Crime Lab’s study of carjackings in Chicago found that nearly half of all people arrested for carjackings in Chicago in 2020 were under the age of 18. Between 2019 and 2020, there was a 104% increase in the number of minors arrested. For many of them, it was their first contact with the criminal justice system, according to Smith.

The rise in carjackings by minors underscores how the pandemic has affected young people in America — especially in regions that were already struggling. The report says carjackings have occurred with more frequency in areas with lower internet access and lower school attendance.

Smith noted that children living in areas with low internet access have had fewer opportunities to engage with school, distance learning and program providers over the past two years. “The impact of the pandemic, I think, cannot be overstated,” she said.

Lopez said choosing not to take young teen crime seriously will have consequences years later when they emerge from the juvenile justice system.

“When you have carjackers who are 15 on their third car, that’s a problem,” he said.

Norman, Milwaukee’s chief, said it would take a multi-faceted approach to start tackling rising carjackings.

“You’re not going to get away with the police,” Norman said. “Everyone has to share the responsibility when it comes to children.”

Norman said that the behavior of children in a community was like “canaries in a mine. When a community has problems, children adopt particular types of behavior.

“That’s my thing. When a child doesn’t like themselves, I worry about the community that has that child. It’s not prohibited behavior that the child will be engaged in,” Norman said. A hungry child will do whatever it takes to put food in his stomach.”

School closures and the advent of remote learning, stress within households related to this and economic insecurity, and pandemic stress on other institutions have all contributed to adolescents having more free time and less stability in their lives.

“You don’t deal with the basics, you can’t realize yourself,” Norman said. “Not all kids do things to put food in their stomachs. But there are things that aren’t taken care of, whether it’s having positive mentorship or areas of socialization that aren’t (not being) available.

“It’s sad to see the desperation and lack of resources that any normal kid should have,” Norman said. “As the old saying goes, ‘Idle hands are the work of the devil.'”

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CNN’s Christina Carrega and Pervaiz Shallwani contributed to this report.