Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is asking auto manufacturers to set up 24-hour hotlines to help their customers and police recover carjacked vehicles as the terrifying crimes continue to rise.
Carjacking has become a major problem. This year through Tuesday, there were 1,971 carjacking victims in Chicago — 27% more than the same period of 2020 and more than one-and-a-half times the number in 2019, according to city crime data.
The West Side is the worst part of Chicago for carjackings, but no part of the city is immune from the robberies, which also are rampant in some suburbs.
Dart has sent letters to 11 automakers with his hotline suggestion.
“Our agency, like many of our major metropolitan partners, can benefit from your cooperation in activating and engaging the telemetry tools on board most later models when such vehicles are reported stolen,” the sheriff wrote. “We have had inconsistent experiences with this approach across manufacturers and are looking to find a path forward to potentially create uniform and standardized methods for seeking your assistance and activating the telemetry systems for stolen vehicles.”
Explaining his plan, Dart said: “This will help recover vehicles sooner, quite possibly with the offenders still at the wheel, making it easier to get criminal charges. This will also help prevent the cars from being used in other crimes.”
Sometimes, it can take weeks for police to reach a carmaker employee authorized to find a vehicle using a location device, officials say.
Dart also is encouraging carmakers to redesign their key fobs to make them harder to clone. Professional carjackers work with locksmiths to create new fobs, officials say.
Dart said most vehicles built after 2015 have some kind of location device that can be used by the manufacturer to find a car. Such late-model vehicles are two-thirds more likely to be carjacked, he said.
The technology has been available for years. In 2007, the Associated Press reported that General Motors’ OnStar global positioning system was finding more than 700 stolen cars a month using the OnStar global positioning system. In 2009, General Motors launched a new feature of the OnStar service that can slowly stop a car that’s stolen and tell a thief to pull over because police are watching.
Dr. Stephanie Davis, a retired Air Force flight surgeon who appeared with Dart at a news conference Thursday on the anti-carjacking efforts, said she was robbed of her car at gunpoint on Sept. 17 at a gas station in Harvey.
Even though her Porsche sport-utility vehicle had tracking capabilities, sheriff’s police officers had to make a lot of calls before they could get the company to track down Davis’ SUV. In the meantime, her SUV was used in two other crimes, including another carjacking in Elmhurst, before the car was found Oct. 4, Davis said.
“My case is a good example there would be less victims associated with my vehicle” if automakers had tracked her car sooner, said Davis, who’s still getting citations for tollway and red-light camera infractions racked up by the criminals who were driving her SUV.
“Improving quick access to tracking information will be beneficial for countless victims who are just trying to get their lives back after a horrific trauma like carjacking,” Davis said.
Dart is asking car owners to fill out a form that’s available on the sheriff’s website. The form gives his office permission to release vehicle tracking information to law enforcement agencies if a car is reported stolen.