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In effort to thwart carjackings, private security firm to post guards at gas stations

The move comes amid a spike in carjackings and is meant to ease the minds of women and seniors from feeling like easy targets while pumping gas.

Kates Detective and Security Agency CEO William Kates (center) speaks at a news conference Friday with supporters, including Ald. Stephanie Coleman, left.
Kates Detective and Security Agency CEO William Kates, center, speaks at a news conference Friday with supporters, including Ald. Stephanie Coleman, left.
Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

To combat a rash of carjackings, a private security firm will be stationing guards at gas stations in areas of the city and suburbs that have been particularly hard hit.

William Kates, CEO of Kates Detective and Security Agency, said that beginning Friday between 25 and 30 guards would be posted at various gas stations, mostly on the South Side, in an effort dubbed “Operation Safe Pump.” The guards will be in security vehicles with the lights flashing between 6 and 8 p.m.

The operation is expected to last for 30 days but could be extended.

Kates is partnering with Ald. Stephanie Coleman (16th). Kates said he will be paying for the service.

“This is to help seniors, as well as women, to feel safe at service stations when they pump gas,” said Kates, who wasn’t sure if the guards would be armed.

The guards will be meant “more to deter than to detain,” Kates said during a news conference at an Englewood gas station at 59th Street and Ashland Avenue, the site of a Christmas Day carjacking that left a 63-year-old woman uninjured but badly shaken.

“No one is exempt from this other pandemic,” said Coleman, who called on other security firms to join in the effort.

“Our police department, they’re doing the best they can, and we’re just here to help,” she said.

Early Walker, who owns W&W Towing and runs I’m Telling Don’t Shoot, an anti-violence organization, said he came up with the idea because his company, through contracts with various police departments, regularly tows carjacked vehicles that are later found abandoned.

“I talk to a lot of victims, and I often hear, ‘I got carjacked at a gas station,’” said Walker, who reached out to Coleman to get the ball rolling.

The alderman said she hopes “Operation Safe Pump” helps change the narrative that some people have of Chicago being “crime, guns and violence.”

A list of the gas stations where guards will be located is expected to be posted at www.imtellingdontshoot.com.

Chicago Police Supt. David Brown said Thursday there had been 144 carjackings since the beginning of the year.

The skyrocketing figure from the first three weeks of 2021 comes after the number of carjackings more than doubled to 1,417 carjackings in 2020.

Friday night, at a town hall meeting for the 2nd police district — which covers South Side neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, Oakland and Washington Park — police reiterated they are taking every step they can to stem the tide of carjackings and offered tips for residents to stay safe: Namely, pay attention to your surroundings.

Police also warned residents not to get in their vehicle and spend time on their phone or with other distractions, and to never leave their vehicle running unattended. They noted the majority of carjackings across the city are being perpetrated by teenagers who use the vehicles to commit other crimes, or simply take them on a joyride.

“We’ve got to put our arms around the entire community and reach out to those young people who might be on the edge of falling in with a bad crowd … to say, ‘Hey, this is not a game, somebody can get hurt,’” said Glen Brooks, the department’s director of public engagement.

“We are scared to death of a tragic instance where, one, a victim gets hurt or killed, and two, that one of these children will think this is a game and point a weapon at an officer, and we have tragic circumstances.”

Contributing: Sam Kelly