The mushrooming national carjacking epidemic is finally receiving added attention from prosecutors and law enforcement. This past week Maryland’s U.S. attorney’s office announced the formation of a regional prosecution task force to combat the crime in D.C and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.[i]
Carjackings doubled from 2019 to 2020 in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, with the trend continuing this year. Washington D.C has experienced its own spike. So far this year, 129 have been reported, compared with 52 at the same point last year.[ii]
Police departments typically do not keep specific carjacking numbers. Instead, the crime gets classified as auto theft or armed robbery. However, crime experts such as Prof. Chris Herrmann, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice say anecdotal reports of a carjacking surge are coming in from metropolitan areas around the country. Using auto theft data, Herrmann says the numbers show that the crime is spiking in many cities this year, including a rise of 68% in New York, 36% in Los Angeles, and 34% in Philadelphia.[v]
The region is not alone. Carjackings have been on the rise in Chicago for more than a year, with a 135% jump in 2020.[iii] Minneapolis carjackings increased by over 500% and have continued to soar in 2021.[iv] Carjacking calls to 9-1-1 in New Orleans spiked up 126%. Oakland police saw a 38% increase.
Some of the local carjackings have turned fatal.
Two teenage girls, ages 15 and 13, face felony murder charges for an attempted carjacking of Mohammad Anwar, a Pakistani immigrant and Uber Eats driver in D.C., on March 23.[vi] In Riverdale Park, Maryland, a security guard was fatally shot in February in an apartment complex parking lot at which police were called to investigate a reported carjacking.[vii]
Skeptics may question Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy’s attribution of the car jackings increase to COVID: “We believe the events of the pandemic led to this specific kind of crime.”
More than COVID, the “Defund the Police” movement may be contributing to a sense of invulnerability on the part of some criminals. Many of the communities hardest hit by the surge have also experienced the sharpest questioning of police budgets.
While more effective law enforcement and prosecution is unquestionably welcomed, another source of response to reverse the trend may come from victims and potential victims.
According to the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council’s gun use research conducted in conjunction with the CDC, “almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year.”[viii] Compare these numbers with the annual number of violent crimes in the country, estimated by the FBI at 1.2 million in 2019. [ix] The number of defensive gun uses appears to exceed the frequency of violent crime.
Now consider then that the recently announced regional carjacking task force involves D.C. and Maryland – both strict gun control jurisdictions- but not Virginia. But then in Virginia, open carry is legal without a permit for anyone who is at least 18 years old who can legally possess a firearm.
Perhaps the carjacking epidemic will begin to subside once the word spreads among the criminal class to be wary of armed motorists. Unfortunately for Marylanders and others in strict gun control jurisdictions, that message is likely to spread more quickly elsewhere.
[iii] https://blockclubchicago.org/2021/01/20/citys-carjacking-surge-shows-no-sign-of-slowing-so-residents-are-buying-guns/ https://news.wttw.com/2021/01/21/police-spike-carjackings-continuing-2021-nearly-150-cases-already-reported