$21 million in grants targets carjacking surge in Illinois

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, himself a carjacking victim decades ago, to announce funding to police departments statewide.

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A Chicago Police Department SUV with license-plate readers at a Northwest Side station in 2022. State officials are investing $21 million in that technology and others to help police fight a rise in carjackings.

A Chicago Police Department SUV fitted with license-plate readers at a Northwest Side station is shown in 2022. State officials are investing $21 million in that technology and others to help police fight a rise in carjackings.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias on Thursday plans to announce $21 million in grants to police departments and task forces across the state in an effort to tamp down on a three-year surge in armed carjackings.

More than half of that funding is earmarked for the Illinois State Police and the Chicago Police Department as the city grapples with some of its highest numbers of carjackings in at least a generation.

“It’s destroying communities,” Giannoulias told the Sun-Times ahead of the grant announcement. “It’s causing people to leave the state, making people second-guess putting their kids in the backseat. It can happen at 10 in the morning or 2 in the afternoon.

“We want to give law enforcement every resource we can to help identify and prosecute these criminals,” said Giannoulias, the first-term Democrat elected last year to replace the long-serving former Secretary of State Jesse White.

Almost half of the grant money — nearly $10.3 million — will go to the Illinois State Police’s expressway safety enforcement group. About $1.5 million is going to the Chicago Police Department’s major auto theft investigations unit.

The money is slated to supplement police budgets for license-plate readers, helicopters, tracking devices, GPS software and other technology to track down carjackers and to help cover salaries for more investigators.

Chicago has a higher rate of carjackings than any other area of Illinois, according to figures from the city and state.

More than 1,600 armed carjackings were reported in the city last year, an 11% decrease from 2021, but still higher than any year in at least two decades.

Chicago carjacking reports more than doubled, from 603 in 2019, to 1,413 in 2020. They hit an apex of 1,849 in 2021. More than 250 have already been reported this year.

Giannoulias said it’s a personal issue for him. He was carjacked with a group of basketball teammates on the West Side in 1998.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Giannoulias was a senior in high school, driving with a group of teammates to the state three-point shooting competition in Champaign. Their vehicle was hijacked by a group of people wielding guns and knives in Austin.

“It was a brutal experience,” he said. “It leaves a scar you never forget. I hate the thought of anyone else going through that.”

Other grants are going to the Illinois Statewide Auto Theft Task Force, which is led by Secretary of State police ($3.4 million), the Metro East Auto Theft Task Force ($2.5 million), the Greater Peoria Auto Crimes Task Force ($2.1 million) and the Tri-County Auto Theft Task Force ($1.8 million).

The funding comes partially from a $1 assessment on auto insurance policies that go to the Illinois Vehicle Hijacking and Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention and Insurance Verification Council.

That body, overseen by Giannoulias’ office, has been around for more than 30 years, but state law was tweaked last year to dedicate more of its funding to carjacking prevention. The grants also draw on some of the $30 million set aside in last year’s state budget targeting the crime.

Funds will be distributed over the next few weeks. The police departments can apply to renew the grants for three years.

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