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Aldermen and their terrified constituents demand answers to carjacking spike

More police, surveillance cameras and license plate readers; brighter street lights; one-way streets and jersey barriers to cut off escape routes were just some of the suggestions.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) speaks with the media after a City Council meeting in September 2015.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th)
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Exasperated aldermen and their terrified constituents demanded Friday that police and prosecutors consider any and all solutions to stop an avalanche of carjackings in Chicago that has people afraid to drive or get into a ride-share.

“I’ve never seen us more united over an issue,” Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said.

More police, surveillance cameras and license plate readers; brighter street lights; one-way streets and jersey barriers to cut off escape routes were some of the suggestions made.

Aldermen also demanded dedicated use of the Chicago Police Department’s sidelined second helicopter, stricter laws and tougher sentencing to crack the whip on “extremely dangerous, unbelievably emboldened” juvenile offenders who ignore police directives.

“One of my neighbors got carjacked right in front of my house. … It terrified my whole block. … We have to watch each other getting into our cars,” said Near West Side Ald. Walter Burnett (27th).

“Use my [tax increment financing] money to buy a helicopter, man. Do what you have to do.”

Far North Side Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) added, “In my community 10 days ago, there was a carjacking with an AK-47. All of us are extremely concerned about the brazenness and the lethal aspect of this. It’s not someone coming up and opening the door. It’s people brandishing weapons. In cases, homicides and shootings occur.”

To underscore the point, Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan talked about the carjacking last week in the West Side’s Harrison District.

After ordering a ride, a group of teens threw the 62-year-old Lyft driver on the ground and stole the car. While a police officer was taking the report from the driver, a 15-year-old defendant returned to the scene and reached into the squad car past the officer’s face to retrieve the cellphone he dropped during the crime.

“If that’s not emboldened, I don’t know what is,” Deenihan said.

“Maybe before, these criminals were not that emboldened. Now, they don’t comply with the police at all. … Anytime we turn on the lights, they take off at 100 miles an hour. There’s almost zero compliance with the police. … It’s very difficult to stop them.”

Illinois State Police Col. David Byrd said his officers have conducted 15 pursuits over the last year at speeds ranging from 90 to 130 mph, 10 of them on the Dan Ryan, the Stevenson and the Bishop Ford expressways. Most of the 11 offenders were teenagers. The youngest was 14.

More often — sometimes as often as a dozen times a night — state troopers make a traffic stop where the driver flees and there is no pursuit.

“High-speed pursuits can be extremely dangerous to the public as well as to the law enforcement officers involved. … We only pursue ... when traffic is appropriate for it and the possibility of injury to the public is at its least,” Byrd said.

If the current pace of eight crimes a day continues, Chicago will end the year with 2,920 carjackings. That would be twice as many as the 1,417 carjackings last year that represented a 135% spike over the year before.

No wonder South Side Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) was so incredibly frustrated by the hours of testimony.

“I don’t think we’re gonna solve this by having 66 people on a Zoom meeting in a subject matter hearing. I don’t really feel that there are any reasonable outcomes that are gonna come out of this today,” Dowell said.

“I do not feel that I have received any information about what has happened on the prosecution side. That is what my constituents are looking for answers to. They want to know that the people who are committing these crimes are being dealt with by the criminal justice system.”