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Amid Surge In Carjackings, Top Cop To Send In More Detectives

After a year in which carjackings rose 135 percent, the first 20 days of 2021 saw 144 carjackings — setting a pace that would smash last year’s record total.

Police Supt. David Brown and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announce an expansion of community policing initiatives on August 20, 2020.
Chicago Police Department
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CHICAGO — The city’s top cop said he hopes to slow Chicago’s surge in carjackings by assigning more detectives to the crimes, working with suburban departments and beefing up the city’s Vehicular Hijacking Taskforce.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown outlined the plans amid a spike in carjackings across the city. After a year in which carjackings rose 135 percent, the first 20 days of 2021 has already seen 144 carjackings — setting a pace that would smash last year’s record total.

“The spike in vehicular carjackings are a regional and national issue that both urban and suburban cities are experiencing across the country,” Brown said during a Thursday evening press conference at police headquarters.

“Law enforcement cannot do this alone. We need everyone, teachers, mentors, coaches, parents, the faith community and others, to help,” Brown said.

In Chicago, most of the thieves are between 15 and 20 years old and their motives include “joyriding and to facilitate anonymity while committing other crimes,” he said.

“CPD’s plan includes expanding its Vehicular Hijacking Taskforce, collaboration with cities across the region, and a focus on stronger prosecutions with Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, judges and federal law enforcement partners,” Brown said.

Brown’s announcement came the day before aldermen plan to gather to talk about the spike. The City Council Public Safety Committee is holding a 10 a.m. Friday hearing on carjackings.

Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan, speaking with Brown, said the police would be adding additional detectives. They’ll also form carjacking teams in each of the city’s five area headquarters.

To emphasize the age of many of the carjacking suspects, Deenihan highlighted a case that took place January 15, in which a 12-year-old got into a woman’s car parked in her open garage. She had just parked and went inside when the boy hopped in. She forgot something and returned to find him inside the car. When she yelled at him to get out, he pulled a gun and drove away. He later crashed the car and was arrested after a trying to run from police, Deenihan said. 

During Thursday’s press conference, Brown said there were 1,417 carjackings last year and 1,127 suspects arrested in related crimes. But police later said that of those arrests, only 178 were for aggravated vehicular carjacking or vehicular carjacking. The remainder were for criminal trespass to a vehicle stolen in a carjacking, which means police can only prove a suspect is in a stolen car.

Deenihan said the pandemic and the fact that schools have been shut down likely is contributing to the problem. To help, police youth-intervention officers will be reaching out more to at-risk children and efforts to provide more opportunities for young people will be a priority, he said.

“We need to work directly with the young people and provide them opportunities to dissuade them from this problem,” Deenihan said.

Brown advised drivers to be alert, not to linger in their parked car and not to put up a fight. Business owners who provide gun safety and concealed carry classes, however, told Block Club Chicago that the epidemic of carjackings is causing more and more people to apply for Firearm Owner’s Identification cards and conceal-carry permits.

In addition to law enforcement, members of Chicago’s City Council have been ringing alarm bells over carjackings. 

In December, Alds. Greg Mitchell (7th) and Michelle Harris (8th) took part in a panel discussion on carjackings after more than 1,400 residents signed a petition seeking answers. 

This week, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) issued an alert in his newsletter to constituents, pledging to add additional cameras and plate readers in his ward that can aid in tracking stolen cars and tracking criminal suspects. 

“Like many of you, I am shocked by this recent surge in vehicular hijackings,” Hopkins wrote. “Residents have reached out to my office in concern over these incidents, which have been widespread and occurring in many of the bordering wards and police districts. I have personally talked with some of the victims, and I genuinely understand how traumatizing these crimes can be.”