Crimes involving vehicles have been on the decline in recent years, except perhaps the most dangerous, carjacking, is on the rise in this year in the U.S., according to a new report, and many are pointing the finger at the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the reasons.
The Chicago Police Department reported 502 carjackings in 2019. This year, the number is more than double, at 1,125 incidents, according to departmental statistics. Most often, three or four young men approach a woman outside her vehicle and at gun point order her to surrender the vehicle and then drive off. They also call for an Uber or Lyft and do something similar once the driver arrives.
A study from earlier this month by the Police Executive Forum, or PERF, revealed that crimes that involve vehicles, like carjackings and auto theft, are on the rise because, in part, there are fewer officers available to patrol as resources have been reallocated.
Also, and it sounds like an oversimplification, because so many people are wearing masks due to the pandemic, people aren’t as wary of mask-wearing people approaching them and on the flip side, it makes it harder to track down suspects.
Chicago isn’t alone. Although there is no national database that tracks carjackings, many individual departments do, according to ABCNews.com. The Minneapolis Police Department reports carjackings have skyrocketed 537% this year.
Further, emergency calls for carjacking in New Orleans are up 126%. Oakland police cite an increase of 38%. Chris Herrmann, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who studies these events, noted increases are coming from anecdotal reports in several metro areas, including Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Louisville, Nashville and Kansas City.
Auto theft is easier to come by, Herrmann told ABCNews.com, the numbers reveal that crime is also spiking in many cities this year, including a rise of 68% in New York, 36% in Los Angeles and 34% in Philadelphia. However, it’s the carjackings draw attention because of their often violent, potentially fatal, nature.
“Carjacking is just lazy car thieves or violent car thieves,” he said. “The normal car thief is going to steal your car while you’re working or sleeping and you’re not going to find out your car is stolen until six hours later.”
Herrmann noted that because the pandemic has normalized mask-wearing, often the radar of victims is down, making them easier targets.
“If we weren’t in a pandemic and you saw a guy coming up to your car with a mask on, you probably would freak out and hit the gas pedal,” he explained. “But nowadays, everyone’s wearing masks. So there’s this anonymity part of the pandemic that I think a lot of criminals are taking advantage of.”
Minneapolis Police Commander Charlie Adams noted that the closure of schools due to the pandemic has contributed to the increase in incidence. He told the website that “80% of our carjackings and robberies are being done by juveniles, ages 9 up to 17.”
He added that in addition to schools being close, juvenile detention centers aren’t holding young offenders who have been arrested so they immediately head back out and commit the same crime again.