Cook County sheriff seeks drivers’ OK to track vehicles, speed carjacking investigations

Consent would come with theft-deterring “tracked vehicle” stickers for owners to display, Sheriff Tom Dart said.

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Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart shows carjacking-deterrent stickers, to be mailed to drivers who sign a preauthorization consent form to let police track their vehicles in the case of a carjacking.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart shows carjacking-deterrent stickers that will be mailed to drivers who sign a consent form to let police track their vehicles in the case of a carjacking.

Dave Struett/Sun-Times

Fed up with some car manufacturers withholding vehicle location data after carjackings, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is promoting a tracking consent form drivers can sign to speed up the process.

“This has been so torturous,” Dart said about getting some carmakers to share tracking data after carjackings.

That real-time vehicle location data has been one of the most effective tools for recovering stolen cars faster, Dart said.

“When we track cars, we recover them quickly. And we have the ability to stop future crimes,” Dart said.

Anyone who drives in Cook County, including those commuting from collar counties, can sign a consent form at cookcountysheriff.org/cartrackconsent.

People who sign the form will be mailed two free carjacking-deterrent stickers for their car that say “tracked vehicle.”

The sticker for the rear window has text facing the interior of the car reading “vehicle is being tracked” in hopes of persuading a thief to ditch the car, Dart said.

The Cook County sheriff’s office will mail these two carjacking-deterring stickers to drivers who sign a consent form to let police track their vehicle if it’s stolen.

The Cook County sheriff’s office will mail these two carjacking-deterring stickers to drivers who sign a consent form to let police track their vehicle if it’s stolen.

Photo by Dave Struett

Signed consent forms will speed up getting location data from car manufacturers, some of whom have been reluctant to aid police in carjacking and theft investigations, Dart said.

“Some car manufacturers have been miserable, literally trying to think of excuses why they can’t do things,” Dart said.

Even with police and a victim on the phone with a car company, it’s still been a hassle to get the tracking data, Dart said. Some manufacturers request search warrants; others provide tracking data only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., he said.

“So this is trying to cut through all of that. This is a legal consent form to allow for tracking. And [the car manufacturers’] excuses need to stop now,” Dart said.

He has lobbied for lawmakers to force carmakers to streamline the process.

Most cars built since 2015 have built-in tracking features, Dart said, but tracking may not be available for drivers of older cars.

Carjackings have decreased slightly over last year, “but we do have a ways to go,” Dart said.

Cook County has had 1,445 carjackings this year through Tuesday, according to a sheriff’s office spokesperson. Last year, there were 1,482 in the same period.

The Chicago area leads the nation in carjackings. In 2021, there were about 2,100 carjackings in Cook County, but there were fewer than 1,000 in New York and Los Angeles combined, the sheriff’s office said.

Real-time tracking has become an important tool for police to recover vehicles faster, Dart said. It took an average of 262 hours for the sheriff’s office to recover stolen cars in 2020. That has dropped 85%, to about 39 hours this year, according to the sheriff’s office.

License plate-reading cameras give police the general area of a stolen car, but real-time tracking data is much more effective, Dart said.

“It’s just wild. ... It’s pretty close to a night and day type of thing,” he said of the discrepancy in police vehicle-tracking methods.

Dart addressed privacy concerns of drivers who may be wary of signing a tracking consent form before they need it.

“There is zero, zero, zero possibility that this information is going to be taken and misused by law enforcement,” Dart said. “The last thing we have time to do is sit and routinely track someone because we can or want to.”

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