Carjacking in Chicago became an unfortunate 2017 trend, with the rates of the crime reaching a 10-year peak. Popularized especially in the 80s, carjackings grew increasingly frequent and fatal in Detroit, Chicago, and Newark, finally requiring federal attention. In 1992, Congress passed the Federal Anti-Car Theft Act, which accomplished two important goals in reducing the instances of car thefts that left victims dead in their wake. Firstly, the law made carjacking a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years in a federal penitentiary. Secondly, though, the law made the operation of “chop shops” a federal crime and imposed steep penalties on anyone who sought to alter and flip stolen cars. After its passage, the Federal Death Penalty Act made it explicitly acceptable for prosecutors to seek the death penalty for a criminal who commits homicide during a carjacking.
Throughout the early 2000s, carjacking enjoyed moderate popularity among criminals, but citizens of Chicago experienced increasing rates in 2017 that drew attention in Washington, DC. While a federal crime, few carjacking cases have been prosecuted on the federal level. The Department of Justice has the right to choose which cases it takes and usually sends cases of carjacking back down to the state level. Carjackers who face the wrath of the DOJ usually include career criminals, gang members, and others who are known to participate in organized crime.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is under a lot of public pressure to do something to prosecute carjackers and empower law enforcement to intervene sooner. Former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy ranted in a speech that the present mayor hasn’t been tough enough on carjacking, noting that many minors who are arrested for carjacking are released in under 24 hours and charges are rarely brought against them. Investigations by the Sun-Times have shown that minors often get a slap on the wrist and are known to become repeat offenders with few to no consequences.
As a part of his efforts, Emanuel has assembled a task force to analyze the circumstances that have made carjacking the robbery strategy of choice. According to a release from the Mayor’s office, the task force includes, “Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Attorney, Illinois State Police, Secretary of State Police, Cook County States Attorney, and suburban police departments including Oak Park, River Forrest, Cicero and Skokie.” The additional resources and expertise will help inform the ongoing plan to quell carjackings and arrest and prosecute offenders. In addition, Emanuel intends to equip police cars with better technology to recognize stolen cars faster. New legislation presently being debated would offer victims more pathways to retribution, including a faster pathway to pressing charges against the perpetrator for operating a stolen motor vehicle.
Many Chicagoans who have been victims of carjackings have inquired about whether their insurance policies cover carjackings. The short answer is usually “yes,” but there may be some important caveats. For the most part, comprehensive insurance will replace the vehicle if it cannot be recovered or pay to repair damages. However, if the driver is injured during a carjacking, things can get sticky. While it’s not usually explicitly covered, Personal Injury Protection has been used in the past to cover injuries sustained during a carjacking, and some states have ruled that it in fact must be covered.
Both as a matter of public safety and crime in Chi-town, carjacking has to be stopped and victims must be taken care of by their insurance providers, the city, and their communities.