Chicago Police Superintendent. David Brown set the right tone at a Thursday night press conference announcing changes aimed at curbing a spike in carjackings – most of them by teenage offenders.
Brown said the new policing approach will include cops working with community leaders and youth advocates to “try to reach our young people and help them make better decisions.”
But given that cars are taken at gunpoint – and sometimes with fatal consequences – Brown’s new tactic includes a difficult side, as it should be. Police have strengthened their hijacking task force, the superintendent said, and will work with prosecutors and the courts “to ensure that there are serious and significant consequences for the offender.”
Brown is walking a politically difficult line, as he knows. Many of the offenders are extremely young, not adult criminals, but the primary responsibility of the police is to keep the rest of us safe.
“We have 12-year-old children who commit these acts”
The new year is less than a month old, but there have already been 144 car hijackings in Chicago, with 104 suspects arrested, Brown said. And one more statistic really gives us pause: By investigating this year’s car hijackings, officers have recovered an incredible number 611 firearms, and nine officers were dismissed.
Carjackings alone more than doubled between 2019 and 2020. The spotlight was on the issue in early December last year when retired Chicago firefighter Dwain Williams was fatally shot in an attempted hijacking after buying popcorn. in the Morgan Park neighborhood. Four people were charged in his death.
The upsurge in car hijackings in Chicago is part of a nationwide trend. Minneapolis leads the country with a 537% increase in car hijackings since 2019. New Orleans has seen a 126% jump over the same period, and there have been serious increases in Louisville, Milwaukee, Nashville and other cities.
Suburbs in Chicago haven’t been immune to the problem either, with car hijackings this year in Aurora – a woman was shot and seriously injured last week – and Naperville. An attempted hijacking last weekend in Elmhurst was only foiled when the owners of the vehicle fought two men and took away what turned out to be a replica gun.
Carpool drivers have also been targeted. A driver had his car stolen by a passenger last Sunday in Wicker Park, one of six such car hijackings in the city since the end of December.
Brown said most Chicago offenders are between the ages of 15 and 20. One of this year’s suspects was only 12 years old. Police said the young gunman jumped behind the wheel of a woman’s car and threatened to shoot her if she did not move in front of the vehicle.
During Thursday’s press conference, Detective Chief Brendan Deenihan said the pandemic, civil unrest over the past year and courts and schools not functioning fully likely played a role in the upsurge in hijackings. car.
“We have 12-year-olds doing these acts now,” he said, “and we need to do something together as a city to stop these actions.”
A mixture of compassion and repression
The stolen cars are mainly used for rides or to commit other crimes, rather than being sold to workshops that sell auto parts on the black market, which was the case in the past.
Deenihan said police formed a city-wide car hijacking task force of police and prosecutors last February. This year, he said, police are setting up carjacking investigation teams in each of the city’s five detective zones. Agents will work with federal prosecutors, he said, to “build the best possible cases” for prosecution.
Deenihan also said police will work with youth response officers in neighborhoods most affected by carjackings. “We have to work directly with young people to give them opportunities and dissuade them from contributing to the problem,” he said.
But those who do not take the olive branch face heavy penalties. Brown said many of those arrested are repeat offenders who have been involved in carjacking or have been arrested for other crimes.
“We really need to hold these people accountable and be more strategic about the obligations that are set, and be more strategic about the consequences,” he said.
Good police work is always about doing two things at once: tackling the root causes of crime while suppressing when necessary.
Hopefully Brown’s strategy of blending compassion and law enforcement wins and makes Chicago safer.
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