Graphics by Sarah Schudt
By Jenna Abusalim, JRN 111 Student
The year 2020 had the highest number of carjackings seen in Chicago since 2001. Between 2019 and 2020, carjackings rose 135 percent, from 603 cases in Chicago to more than 1,400. This number spiked by another 44 percent at the end of 2021, and data suggests 2022 will be no better.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, just this year, the Chicago Police Department has made 72 arrests for carjackings, with more than half of them being committed by juveniles.
Some experts say the culprit behind the visible increase in young adults committing these crimes is lack of prosecution.
“My opinion as to why it is happening more frequently is due to the lack of accountability by prosecutors,” said Michael Espinoza, a Moraine criminal justice professor. “Offenders read the news like anyone else. They see there is little chance of being prosecuted. It’s a crime of opportunity and can be lucrative to a criminal.”
According to Espinoza, the increase in carjackings is due in part to minors being targeted by older fugitives and encouraged to commit these crimes because of the low chance of prosecution.
Carjackings shot up shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a study by Robert Vargas, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago. Prior to 2020, there were less than 1,000 carjackings a year but in 2021, that number more than doubled.
“And when you look at the fact that the carjacking spike occurred just as the pandemic and the economic downturn hit, it makes logical sense that a lot of the carjackings is tied to the tremendous increase in economic need in Chicago’s disadvantaged neighborhoods,” Vargas told WBEZ.
In his study, Vargas found that the blame for carjackings may be unfairly laid at the feet of youths, however, as most carjacked vehicles are never recovered by police and therefore are most likely being sold on the black market.
“Unless young people are extremely good at hiding cars after having gone for a joyride, it seems like there’s some pretty strong economic incentives going on here,” Vargas said.
As criminal activity in general has spread from the city out to the suburbs, so have violent crimes such as carjackings.
“When I started in Oak Lawn in 1982 when I was a kid, it was the hot suburb to move to,” said Moraine criminology professor Brian Duffy. “By the time I left, we had gotten the spillover from the city. The Chicago Housing Authority closed all the public housing units, and a lot of those people moved out to the suburbs.”
Oak Lawn, a suburb outside of Chicago, is one of the many that have experienced a dramatic increase in crime. In November 2021, an armed suspect led police on a wild chase from Gary, Indiana, into Illinois, where two suspects took off on foot near 95th and Oak Park, forcing residents into a “shelter in place” scenario.
Just last month, on April 18, Oak Lawn had another instance where a group of individuals opened fire on a single-family home after attempting to steal the neighbor’s 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The group fled in a stolen Mercedes SUV and wrecked the vehicle in front of Oak Lawn Hometown Middle School, after a high-speed police chase. They held a mother at gunpoint in an attempt to steal her car, but after accelerating, the mother and child left unharmed.
Police stated that was the second incident in two weeks where someone attempted to steal a vehicle and as a result, shots were fired. Though nobody was harmed, no arrests were made.
“The rise has more recently occurred, in my opinion, within the last three years with the increase in available illegal street guns, juvenile criminal offenses, and current lack of harsher punishments once an offender has been captured,” said Terrence Dugan, Moraine Valley criminal justice professor.
According to Duffy, improved technology and increased communication makes it easier for people to commit crimes, knowing there likely will be no punishment.
“These phones, they tell everyone to meet at State Madison at 3:30 and they go crazy. And they know that if the police get there they can’t arrest everybody,” Duffy said.
It’s a crime of opportunity and can be lucrative to a criminal.”Michael Espinoza, MV criminology professor
Chicago has seen an increase in carjacking but a decrease in homicide. Duffy believes this has nothing to do with a decrease in violence but improvements made within the medical field.
“Trauma centers are almost experts at gun wounds; that is why murder has gone down,” Duffy said.
To ensure safety when it comes to a vehicle, the experts recommend locking the vehicle, parking in safe spaces, and closing windows.
“While utilizing a vehicle, always keep your doors locked and windows safely lowered,” Dugan said. “Never leave your running vehicle unattended, and if you feel uncomfortable when involved in an accident, if applicable, contact the authorities before exiting.”
Other tips include walking out of shops with trusted individuals, trusting your instinct, taking a few extra turns if you suspect being followed, and never be afraid to reach out to the authorities for assistance if you feel uncomfortable.
Your car is replaceable; your life is not.”Brian Duffy, MV criminology professor
If you do find yourself in an unsafe position, it is best to remain calm and in worst-case scenarios, it is recommended to comply. According to Espinoza, citizens can fight back against these situations by providing footage through personal and business surveillance.
“If you do find yourself trapped, you should comply,” said Duffy. “Your car is replaceable; your life is not.”