December 4, 2023

Auto Theft, Carjackings More Than Doubled on the North Side

By Natalie McGuiggan and Camille Belberka

carjacking photoThieves target streets on Chicago’s North Side. (Photo/Camille Belberka)

Chicago’s North Side, known for its upscale restaurants and shopping scene, has seen a dramatic increase in crime, specifically carjackings, with triple the numbers from a decade ago, leaving residents saying they are scared for the safety and security of themselves and their vehicles.

Although there has been a 7% increase in auto theft nationwide, Chicago is reporting more incidents than any other city currently in the United States, and is becoming the fastest-growing city for auto thefts. The city averaged 577 stolen vehicles a week over the past 12 months. Many residents living in the North Side of Chicago say they feel helpless against these crimes and feel as though little is being done about the issue.

North Side resident Samantha Rosales said that she has felt a shift in her safety in recent years and feels like the amount of precautions she and residents living in her area have to take is ridiculous.

“This is probably the first year that I felt unsafe on my street,” Rosales said. “I just think it’s a huge problem and it’s super unfortunate the fact that I need to go out of my way and buy a stick for my steering wheel, like we all have those sticks here,” Rosales said. “I just think it’s so unnecessary. Like why do I need to worry about that?”

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A recent carjacking spree hit the North Side occurring over eight hours from Nov. 14 into Nov. 15. A group of perpetrators targeted three separate victims within several neighborhoods from Bowmanville to Greektown. The suspects pulled up in two vehicles, used a “boxed-in”method on their victims, displayed their handguns, and then forced the victims out of their vehicle. The group targeted three victims and their vehicles throughout the North Side all within a 15-minute time span. The group is said to be behind two commercial burglaries that occurred that same night, both targeting Ulta Beauty Stores, stealing thousands of dollars of merchandise.

Robinson Le Meur, who has lived on the North Side since August, said he believes there should be more communication between residents and a heavier police presence due to the increase in carjackings and like crimes in the area.

“I think we should put more restrictions,” Le Meur said, “and maybe more policemen in the area.”

“We could use more private parking in the North Side, for people to park there, and it should not be expensive.”

North Side residents like Le Meur are pushing CPD to do more to help lower this crime. According to Chicago Police Department data through Nov. 9, vehicle thefts, including carjackings, over the past 12 months are up 114% compared to the annual average over the last three years.

The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 led to an increase in violent crime rates around the US, specifically homicides, which had an alarming 30% increase. In 2021, Chicago had its deadliest year since 1996 with 797 homicides, more than any other U.S. city. Since then, violent crime rates in Chicago such as murder have decreased by 60%, but crimes like vehicle theft have seen a 106% increase since the start of COVID.

Keith Atterberry, a doctoral student and teaching assistant from the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said many factors play a role in these types of crimes and why they are being committed at such an alarming rate.

“I think there’s a lot of factors including opportunities that have probably increased,” Atterberry said. “Maybe less of a police presence, especially since the pandemic, fewer witnesses, combined with less fear of being apprehended by potential law violators, you know, they perhaps just feel like hey, you know, this is a crime, that we’re less likely to be caught.”

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More than a million vehicles were reported stolen in the US in 2022, and nearly 18% of those incidents were carried out by male offenders under the age of 18. The average age of carjackers is said to be between the ages of 15 and 25, but there have been cases in previous years of suspects as young as 12 and 13 involved in these types of crimes.

“I would say one of the factors is the random nature of carjacking,” Atterberry said. “The fact that it’s a crime of opportunity, and perhaps there are more opportunities because maybe there are [fewer] witnesses.”

Atterberry said that he believes that these crimes are seeing such an increase because many go without consequences or arrests. Atterberry continued to say that there is very little that can be done with these types of crimes, and that is why they keep happening, and why many offenders are repeat offenders.

“I think a lot of the tools that exist are more of an investigative nature, like license plate readers and surveillance cameras that can help after the fact,” he said. “However, in terms of deterrence you know, I think that, again, it’s a calculus that potential offenders use, we call it rational choice theory. Does the cost of committing this crime outweigh the benefits? And I think that the answer to that for many offenders is that the benefits do outweigh the cost.”

Reporter’s Notebook

Meghna Dasgupta interviews reporter Natalie McGuiggan about how she reported this story.

To help limit or control this repeated issue the Chicago Police Vehicular Hijacking Task Force was created in March 2021, which consists of Chicago Police, Cook County Sheriffs, Illinois State Police, as well as federal law enforcement professionals who specialize in the investigation of violent crime and robbery cases. The task force is dedicated to tracking down stolen vehicles in the Chicagoland area and returning them to their rightful owners.

How to Help

For more information on carjackings, or if you would like to report a carjacking you can contact the Chicago Police Vehicular Hijacking Task Force or submit an anonymous tip to help law enforcers locate the perpetrator or the stolen vehicle.

Carjacking infographic

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