As carjacking numbers continue to increase in cities around the country, so does the number of young car thieves behind the wheel, some as young as 12 or 13, reports NPR. In Minneapolis there were 405 carjackings last year — more than triple the number in 2019. The suspects arrested were often juveniles between the ages of 11 and 17. Other cities such as New Orleans, Kansas City, Mo., Louisville, Ky., and Washington, D.C. have all seen increases too. Last year in Chicago, there were 1,400 carjackings.
In early December, police released a video of one deadly encounter where a retired firefighter was killed in a shootout with four suspects, one of whom was 15 years old. Chicago police say juveniles were involved in nearly half of the incidents last year, with the largest group a mix of juveniles and young adults between 15 and 20 years old. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot says it’s a top concern for her and the Chicago Police Department and that it must be addressed holistically. That means filing charges against those who commit crimes, but also addressing the roots of this behavior to keep them out of the criminal justice system long-term.
Police say there are a variety of reasons for the increase. The economic impact of the pandemic on hard-hit neighborhoods may be a factor and police say because everyone is covering their faces, it gives carjackers an edge. Five years ago, a change in Illinois law ended the automatic transfer of juveniles to adult court when a weapon is used in a crime.
An adult found guilty of carjacking could receive up to 15 years in prison and even more if a weapon is used. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, says her office filed charges in 80 percent of the carjacking cases involving juveniles last year. A judge decides what happens next, be it whether a young person is detained, released to parents, or ordered to participate in counseling. In response to the increase in carjackings, Chicago’s police department expanded a task force focusing on the crime, concerned residents regularly meet up at gas stations that are frequent targets to prevent any carjackings there and the city reached out to youth organizations for help.
Vondale Singleton, the founder of the CHAMPS program, says mentoring is particularly important during the pandemic because there has been so much disruption with schools, sports and other activities for young people. “When they’re in our care, we don’t have or see these incidents of violence of crime or disrespect because we know how to treat these young men; we know how to educate and talk (with them),” Singleton says.