CHICAGO - Chicago saw more than 180% more carjackings in January than during the same month in 2020 -- and police believe most of the offenses are being committed by young adults and teenagers, some of whom are currently out of school due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Carjackings rose about 135% last year to 1,415 and continue at a high pace this year, police statistics show. Chicago Police Department recorded 218 carjackings in January 2021 -- a staggering spike from the 77 reported during the same time last year, authorities told Fox News late Monday.
The startling pattern has grown to be cause for concern among police brass, who on Jan. 21 announced the creation of a team dedicated to finding those people responsible.
Officials said CPD arrest data show carjackers are most often between the ages of 15 and 20, but arrest records show they are sometimes even younger.
"We’re having 12-year-olds commit these acts now," Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan said, "and we gotta do something together as a city to stop these actions."
CPD's new carjacking team consists of 40 police officers and four sergeants assigned to work across CPD’s five detective bureaus, the department said. But the program extends beyond just manpower to include public programs and collaboration with community groups and local, state and federal partners.
"This idea of our officers confronting a 13- and 12-year-old with a gun and the most unthinkable tragedy happens is one of our concerns, but our primary concern, I want to make this clear, is for the victim," Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said. "And so these consequences, whether you’re young or old, have to be significant in order to discourage this behavior."
Deenihan said pandemic-driven changes, such as civil unrest and the lack of fully-functioning school and court systems have contributed to the surge. He noted the lack of fear on the part of the carjackers, pointing to one involving a 12-year-old that occurred on Jan. 15, when a woman was parking her car in a garage.
"She came back out and a 12-year-old was getting in her car with a gun," Deenihan said. "She stood in front of the car to say, 'Get out of the car.' The 12-year-old pointed a gun at her and said, 'Move or I'll shoot you.'"
The pre-teen took off with her car, prompting a police chase and his eventual arrest.
"This shows the brazenness of these carjackers," Deenihan said. "And it shows what we’re up against."
There were 14,017 incidents of carjackings, and police arrested 1,127 suspects last year, Brown said. In the past five years, Chicago had 4,384 carjackings with 10,219 suspects arrested.
Just Monday, Chicago police arrested two people, including a 19-year-old man, in connection with an aggravated vehicular hijacking on Jan. 27.
On Jan. 28, Chicago police arrested a 14-year-old boy for allegedly taking part in multiple carjackings, including one involving an off-duty police officer.
The 14-year-old, whose name was not provided because of his age, is suspected of being involved in as many as nine carjackings and robberies that occurred between July 2020 and January. Police allege that on Jan. 26, the boy, who was on home electronic-monitoring for another charge, carjacked a 38-year-old off-duty Chicago police officer with a 15-year-old accomplice.
Also on Jan. 28, police announced the arrests of two other teens, both 14-year-old girls, who had allegedly placed a driver in a chokehold and forced him out of the car before driving away.
And in December 2020, retired Chicago Fire Department firefighter Dwain Williams was fatally shot during an attempted carjacking. Four people, ages 15, 18, 19 and 20, have been charged in connection with Williams’ death.
"He was trying to get some popcorn, and his life was taken," said anti-violence activist Early Walker during a conference following his death, according to the Daily Mail. "Here is a man that gave his life to the city, finally was able to retire to try and enjoy his life and now his life has been taken."
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Fox News' Louis Casiano contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.