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Under pressure over Chicago’s ongoing spike in carjackings, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday that the issue is “top of mind” for her and announced the police department has added 40 officers to teams investigating the crimes.
The mayor also called the recent increase in carjackings a “regionwide crisis” and said she’d convene local mayors and police superintendents later this week to talk about a “regional solution” to the problem. Her office did not immediately provide more details.
“I know that carjackings have been unfortunately on the rise recently and I want you all to know again that this is an issue of top of mind for both me and the entire police department,” Lightfoot said. “As a result, CPD has doubled down on its commitment to preventing carjackings and holding assailants accountable by adding an additional 40 officers to its carjacking unit and sending detectives to meet with carjacking victims and witnesses immediately after the crime to treat these incidents with the seriousness that they require.
Lightfoot’s comments came days after a six-hour City Council committee hearing during which aldermen from across Chicago told Police Department officials that residents are afraid to drive through their neighborhoods even during daylight hours for fear somebody will demand their vehicles at gunpoint.
Carjackings in Chicago rose about 135%, to 1,415 in 2020 from 603 in 2019, according to a Tribune review of police information. The 2020 tally was the highest figure recorded here since 2001, when Chicago logged only slightly more with 1,422, the city statistics show.
A top police official last week said there have been at least 166 carjackings in Chicago so far in 2021. Police have made 108 arrests, but 58 of those arrestees have been charged only with misdemeanor trespass to vehicle, Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan previously said.
There may have been even more carjackings in 2020 than the city’s figures show. For instance, retired Chicago Fire Department Lt. Dwain Williams was shot and killed in early December when assailants tried to carjack him near a popcorn shop on the Southwest Side, authorities said, an incident categorized as a homicide instead of a carjacking. Later in the month, 33-year-old Shuai Guan was fatally shot near his home in the Bridgeport neighborhood after a carjacker demanded the key to his white SUV, a crime also logged as a homicide.
The spike in carjackings came at a time when gun violence also skyrocketed as the city struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced unrest following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. Experts have said both likely influenced crime totals here as the economy suffered and community trust in the police was severely eroded.
There are also likely a variety of reasons for the dramatic rise specifically in carjackings, police have said, including the general public’s use of masks for coronavirus protection, enabling criminals to conceal their faces without raising alarm. Gangs are often to blame, police said, because they sometimes use stolen vehicles as they commit more crimes.
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Speaking before aldermen last week, Deenihan also attributed the “ridiculous spike” in carjackings to young people taking cars around the city to joyride in the vehicles then dump them.
In her comments after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot also said the city needs “proactive intervention strategies” to reach young carjackers before they make “bad decisions for themselves and harming others.”
“We’ve got to intervene with these kids, there’s no question, and we’ve got to get them back in school,” Lightfoot said. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to folks who are directly involved, particularly in the juvenile courts, and it’s very clear to me we’ve got to do much more. We’ve got to bring in the entire ecosystem of folks from the courts to the prosecutors, also the social service organizations that do work supporting these young people. But we’ve got to bring the message right to the young people, meet them where they are, and let them know that if they decide to go in this direction, to rob someone at gunpoint no less, that we have to and we will hold them accountable.”
Aldermen from all parts of the city have expressed concern over the increase in carjackings.