All you have to do is watch the video recently released by Aurora police of an 11-year-old girl jumping out of a carjacked car last Friday to see why a bill addressing the rash of Chicago area carjackings ought to become law.
In the Aurora incident, an alleged carjacker jumped into the car at a gas station while the girl’s father got ready to fill the gas tank. The girl was unhurt, and a 20-year-old man has been charged. But the aftermath could have been tragic.
Carjackings are surging in Chicago. Last year, there were nearly 1,000, compared with 663 in 2016 and many fewer in the prior two years. Many of the suspects are juveniles, who since 2016 no longer have their cases automatically transferred to adult court.
A bill that has cleared the state Senate would tweak the law to make it easier to charge people who are caught driving cars that have been stolen in carjackings. Now, many suspects are quickly freed to return to the streets — often to carjack more vehicles — because they can avoid felony charges simply by denying they knew the vehicle they were in was stolen, no matter how implausible their stories. They may be charged with trespass to a vehicle, a misdemeanor, but those cases generally are simply dropped in the crowded court system.
Critics of the bill worry that people who are driving a borrowed car they don’t know is stolen could suddenly face felony charges. But the bill has been amended to make sure that’s unlikely if they cooperate with police.
In February, the Sun-Times’ Frank Main reported that of the dozens of juveniles who were charged with armed carjackings in 2017, most were detained no longer than 24 hours. Even though many of the suspects who are arrested for auto theft have previously faced auto theft charges, the top charge that is filed often is misdemeanor trespassing. Not all of those cases should have resulted in felony charges, but too many carjacking suspects quickly return to the streets.
Often, carjackers wear masks, or the crimes happen so quickly that victims can’t identify their attackers. If suspects aren’t charged for possessing a stolen vehicle, they might face no penalty at all.
Illinois has foolishly slashed programs designed to stop crime before it starts, by investing in young people up front instead of through the criminal justice system.
But allowing the rash of carjackings to continue unchecked would be foolish as well.
Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.