Dozens of juveniles were charged last year in Chicago for allegedly pointing guns at motorists and stealing their cars, but most were not detained longer than 24 hours, according to court records obtained by the Sun-Times.

Armed carjackings have become a major political problem for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Almost every part of the city has been plagued by the brazen holdups. There were almost 1,000 of them last year, compared with 663 in 2016.

Last week, former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who’s considering a run for mayor, criticized Emanuel for failing to take control of the problem. McCarthy said “criminals are getting released immediately after arrest. Many times, they’re not being prosecuted. If there’s no sanction, what the hell?”

Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy at the City Club of Chicago in September 2016. | Santiago Covarrubias/Sun-Times

Behind the scenes, elected officials are asking the same question.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), Ald. Matthew O’Shea (19th), Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) and state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, are all taking a hard look at juvenile gun crime as their constituents fall victim to it.

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They’ve learned more juveniles than adults were arrested for armed carjacking last year. Most charged were later released on electronic monitoring ordered by juvenile court judges.

But that’s only part of the picture, the officials say.

About 700 juveniles were arrested in Chicago in connection with all types of gun-related crimes during the first seven months of 2017. Those crimes ranged from murder to armed robbery to carjacking to unlawful possession of a firearm.

Of those 700 juveniles, 42 percent were arrested again. Of those arrests, half were for offenses involving guns.

“Crime has to have consequences,” said Smith, a former federal prosecutor whose ward includes the Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park. “We’re not helping our community and we’re not helping our kids. We’re not even giving them a ‘time out’ for carrying a gun.”

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) | Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Cunningham said he started looking at the juvenile carjackings problem after a teenager in his Southwest Side district was arrested in the armed robbery of an off-duty Chicago police officer last year in Beverly.

“It became apparent that there may be a revolving door in the juvenile court system, which is rarely holding juvenile offenders — even when they are charged with violent crimes,” he said.

Chicago Police data show juveniles are contributing to the rise of armed carjackings: 42 juveniles were arrested for that offense last year through Dec. 16, compared with 31 adults.

Not every juvenile who’s arrested is charged. Some never appear in court.

But of the 49 youths charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking last year in Cook County juvenile court, 29 were released on electronic monitoring; one other was released to a parent without such monitoring, records show.

That means they most likely were held in detention for fewer than 24 hours, authorities say.

The Sun-Times also found:

  • Three of those defendants were later re-arrested on another armed carjacking charge. One was arrested for a carjacking 10 days after being released on a prior carjacking charge.
  • Ten were re-arrested and charged with other serious crimes.
  • One of the juveniles was released on a carjacking charge, but died before the case was adjudicated.
  • In seven cases, juveniles were sent to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, although some of the cases are still pending.

A few years ago, major reforms to the juvenile justice system changed how armed carjacking and armed robbery are handled, Cunningham said.

State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago.

Under state law, murder, attempted murder, rape, armed robbery and aggravated carjacking all had been crimes for which juveniles were automatically transferred to adult court — and many stayed in jail on bond until trial. But the reforms removed aggravated carjacking and armed robbery from the automatic transfer provisions.

Cunningham and others wonder whether that reform created a “revolving door.” He and other elected officials are considering possible changes to state law to increase the odds that juveniles charged with gun crimes are detained longer than 24 hours.

Cunningham said one possibility is for the legislature to change the burden of proof for juveniles charged with aggravated carjacking. The legal presumption in those cases is that the defendants should not be detained unless the prosecutor can show why, Cunningham said. He said he’s examining whether defendants should be detained unless their defense attorneys can show why not.

If defendants are detained, they have to undergo court-ordered psychological testing to see if they’re a risk to themselves or others, Cunningham said. That information can be used to determine if a juvenile should remain detained until trial, he said.

Cunningham stressed he’s in the early stages of looking at the juvenile carjacking issue.

Pat Milhizer, spokesman for Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans, said he couldn’t comment on possible legislative changes.

“The role of the judiciary is to follow existing law,” he said. “And the judges will continue to apply the law to the cases in front of them.”