Chicago officials struggle to stem years-long carjacking crisis

Members of the New Orleans Police Department investigate a carjacking scene on N. Pierce Street that resulted in the death of an elderly woman in New Orleans, Louisiana on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Max Becherer/The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Defend via AP)

It’s not just potholes to watch out for on Chicago roads.

Since the turn of the decade, Chicago has been plagued by a growing carjacking crisis. In 2020, Chicago police reported 1,413 carjacking attempts, a 135% increase from the previous year, according to the Chicago Police Department (CPD) via the Chicago Data Portal. In 2021, that number jumped to 1,852. And if current trends continue, the city could see 1,755 carjackings by the end of 2022.

Carjackings have not only become more frequent, they have also become more violent.

Aggravated carjackings accounted for 72.7% of all carjackings in Chicago in 2021, up from 66% in 2020, according to CPD through the Chicago Data Portal. That percentage has also increased so far in 2022 — 75.7% of all Chicago carjackings this year have involved either violence or the threat of violence, according to CPD through the Chicago Data Portal.

“It’s the violence with which they are taken that makes them so dangerous,” said Geneva Brown, professor of criminology at DePaul. “You go about your day, leave work or come to work, and someone pulls up next to you with a gun and tells you to get out.”

Former DePaul student Jayme Gede suffered an attempted carjacking at gunpoint in November 2020. Although she managed to fend off the assailants while retaining her car, the experience left her still left an impact.

“I drive a lot less than before,” she said. “After that, I just stopped driving for a good six months.”

Since then, Gede feels the city has failed to respond appropriately to the carjacking crisis.

“I’ve seen posters put up in workplace break rooms on tips to prevent carjackings,” she said. “Other than that, I haven’t really seen any attempt to curb him, so I wouldn’t say I feel any safer than I did in 2020.”

In response to the ongoing slew of carjacking incidents, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown announced Feb. 7 that Chicago would begin staffing its task force. about 24-hour carjacking.

Robert Stokes, associate professor of public service at DePaul, notes how several other US cities have taken a “tough on crime” approach to the national rise in carjackings.

“Like most crime problems, a spike and the related publicity leads to more intense political focus and additional resources devoted to the problem, such as a better-staffed regional task force, more undercover changes , police overtime, political pressure on prosecutors to pursue tougher charges, and legal changes that stiffen sentences,” he said. “This kind of multi-pronged response has tend to lead to more arrests and harsher sentences which, given a set of rational criminal actors, would make crime less appealing.”

However, a complicating factor in solving Chicago’s carjacking crisis is the age of its attackers: About half of all arrests made in connection with stolen vehicles are of children under the age of 18, according to the CPD. Brown suggests that much of this influx of young carjackers stems from the uprooting of social structures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“[Many children weren’t] receiving an education, community centers were closed – at times they even removed basketball hoops and locked down courts where you could play basketball,” Brown said. “So you had thousands of children and teenagers who grew up without any structure, without any education – they eventually got some sort of online version of the classroom, but there are a lot of kids who checked in. We need to talk about how we let these kids down and how they lack the structure they so desperately need.

Further, Brown suggests that while increasing penalties for underage carjackers would keep offenders off the streets longer, it may actually cause greater problems in the long run.

“You can lock up children, you can institutionalize them, you can prepare them for the adult criminal justice system, [but that’s] is not going to fix the underlying issues,” she said. “In general, most teenagers who commit offenses get older – unfortunately, if you institutionalize them, they won’t age. We must therefore be careful how we treat these children, even in the most violent circumstances. We can’t just throw away the key – you’re going to pay for it, one way or another.

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