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CPD tackles surge in carjackings as victims fight through trauma

“Our primary concern, I want to make this clear, is for the victim,” Police Supt. David Brown said Thursday. “These consequences, whether you’re young or old, have to be significant in order to discourage this behavior.”

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown discusses the rise in carjackings in Chicago and surrounding communities at a news conference Thursday at Chicago Police headquarters.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A ride-share driver carjacked at gunpoint Sunday by his passenger in Wicker Park said carjackings have “gotten out of hand.”

Police said he was carjacked in the 1700 block of West Lemoyne Street by a rider who took out a gun and stole his car.

“It’s as easy as stealing candy from a kid — just pointing a gun to someone’s head and taking their car,” Allen Suchkou said. “Something has to get done.”

Police warned residents in the neighborhood of six other carjackings targeting ride-share drivers since late December.

Supt. David Brown announced a series of measures Thursday aimed to slow the surge in carjackings across the city.

One measure includes beefing up the Chicago Police Department’s Vehicular Hijacking Task Force by adding staff in each detective area to focus solely on carjackings. It’s unclear how many new officers will join the group, but just nine officers worked the task force as of Jan. 4, according to CPD.

CPD also will work more closely with surrounding suburbs who have seen an increase in carjackings that are often linked to Chicago.

Brown said “one of the troubling aspects” of these carjackings is the number of children involved in the crime. The youngest offender is just 13 years old, and the bulk of offenders have been between 15 and 20 years old.

“We all need to work with our community members, as well as youth advocates, to try and reach our young people to help them make better decisions,” Brown said at Thursday’s news conference. “Law enforcement cannot do this part alone. We need everyone — teachers, mentors, coaches, parents, the faith community and others — to help.”

Brown said he worries about a police officer confronting an armed young person amid a carjacking that could lead to tragedy.

“Our primary concern, I want to make this clear, is for the victim,” Brown said. “These consequences, whether you’re young or old, have to be significant in order to discourage this behavior.”

Another measure puts Chicago Police in collaboration with youth intervention groups, though it’s unclear what that partnership will look like.

Chicago Public School teacher Alyssa Blanchard was carjacked at gunpoint last summer outside her home in Calumet Heights. Since the incident that left her “traumatized,” Blanchard said she got a surveillance camera at home.

She said she’s addressed the rise in carjackings by speaking to accused child carjackers in an intervention setting.

Carjackers “know it’s wrong, but they don’t know the depth of this,” Blanchard said. “They think they’re just out joyriding. But I asked, ‘What about your future? You’re about to throw it all away.”

Police identified one of her carjackers as a juvenile wanted in possibly 30 to 40 other carjackings, Blanchard said.

“It’s just getting worse. It’s really escalating,” Blanchard said. “It’s the same group of kids doing the same carjackings. It’s obvious [the authorities] don’t know what to do.”

In response to Brown’s plan, Blanchard said she questions the effectiveness of prosecutors and the court system if so many of the carjackers are repeat offenders.

“Police are making the arrests,” she said. “I don’t want to see any kids locked up, but something has to be done. And if there has to be consequences, it has to be what it has to be.”

Violent crimes, like carjackings, have seen exponential growth in Chicago during the coronavirus pandemic as job opportunities drop and economic anxiety escalates, Brown said.

Reported carjackings alone more than doubled between 2019 and 2020.

In 2020, Brown said there were 1,417 carjackings, and police arrested 1,127 people in carjacking-related crimes.

Last summer, a group of armed kids as young as 10 were said to have been involved in more than a dozen carjackings. Also, a retired firefighter was killed in a shootout with would-be carjackers.

There have already been 144 carjackings since the beginning of the year, Brown said, with police arresting 104 offenders.

There were multiple reported carjackings throughout the city Tuesday. A 50-year-old man was carjacked while unloading groceries in Jefferson Park, a pair carjacked someone’s car near Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Logan Square home and a woman was punched in her face during an armed carjacking in Lakeview.

The City Council’s Committee on Public Safety will meet Friday morning for a hearing on the rising number of carjackings, seeking recommendations for how to stop the rise in incidents.