FOX 32 takes ride-along with Chicago's carjacking task force, 80% of Cook County suspects walk free

The numbers aren’t pretty. Carjackings exploded in 2021, and are way up in 2022.

But every week, there’s a law enforcement team out on the streets trying to stop carjackers in their tracks. However, they run into many roadblocks.

"Any luck with police helicopter?" asked Lieutenant Patrick Donovan with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. The dispatcher responds saying, "Negative, I called the hangar and both of them are down for maintenance."

In a FOX 32 Special Report, we recently went on a ride-along with the Chicago Vehicular Hijacking Task Force. Before we could even get our bulletproof vests on, we were in pursuit of a stolen SUV.

"A car that was hijacked overnight in Chicago has just hit on a tracking through Toyota," said Roe Conn, Director with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. "So we are trying to get to it."


On this detail, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department has eight teams and their most valuable resource to track down carjackers is grounded.

The two police helicopters used make it easier to follow suspects without a chase. The choppers also make it easy to track the suspects inside, where they go, and when they discard evidence.

The Chicago Vehicular Carjacking Task Force is a partnership with Cook County sheriff's police, the Chicago Police Department, Illinois State Police, the FBI and Homeland Security. Their role is to snuff out carjackers and recover the stolen vehicles.

"Air support is greatly needed," said Lt. Donovan.

Without the extra eye in the sky, the task force relies on technology. This time, automaker Toyota is tracking the car and it has a 15-second delay.

The rideshare driver was pulled out of the car at gunpoint at 3 a.m. in Garfield Park. Thirteen hours later, it’s being tracked and it’s headed right in our path.

"There’s a carjacked car," said Lt. Donovan. "Chicago is on it. We got eyes on it, we got eyes."

From there, the carjackers hopped on the interstate, got off at the next exit and crashed into several cars. One of the suspects inside the SUV bailed. He turned out to be 17-years-old and was released to his mother.

The average age of a carjacker in Cook County is 15 to 25-years-old.

License plate readers on the interstate and Chicago police POD cameras helped track the damaged stolen SUV to a West Side alley. It’s been dubbed "ditch alley," because law enforcement has tracked several dumped hijacked cars to the same area.

"If there’s not a person inside there, we will recover it and process it," said Lt. Donovan. "Then when we get fingerprints and DNA, whatever evidence is in there, we will conduct the canvas in the area and where this car is, there should be some decent surveillance cameras."

A map from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department shows the hotspots for carjackings this year. The crimes are widespread; happening north of the city, west, and south.

Cook County is seeing nearly five carjackings a day. So far, 20% of carjackers are arrested in Cook County, while 80% walk free.

"At the beginning of the year, the first three months they had increased and lately, there’s been an uptick again," said Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. "We are recovering more cars and we are recovering them in half the time it used to take which is huge."

It’s a daily grind for Lieutenant Donovan and Director Conn, but they believe it’s all worth it.

"We are making progress, that’s why we aren’t defeated," said Lt. Donovan. "It’s still promising. It’s a big problem, but we are making a lot of headway."

Carjackings from 1/1/21 through 6/20/21:

  • 756 carjackings in Cook County. 682 were reported in Chicago and 74 in the suburbs

From 1/1/22 through 6/20/22:

  • 834 carjackings in Cook County. 800 were reported in Chicago and 34 in the suburbs.

Recovered vehicles:

  • 677 vehicles were recovered countywide from 1/1/21 through 6/20/21. 628 were Chicago recoveries. 49 were suburban recoveries.
  • 733 vehicles were recovered countywide from 1/1/22 through 6/20/22. 708 were Chicago recoveries. 25 were suburban recoveries.