Spike in Carjackings During the Pandemic

There are an array of explanations that are offered as to why carjackings have increased in major cities across the country in the last year. The caveat to be considered is which explanations are empirically supported compared to opinions offered based on perspective. In a WSJ article today, reporter Scott Calvert presents the argument that the spike in carjackings in Washington D.C. noticed by police officers could be due to juveniles being kept out of on-site schools due to the pandemic. While many Americans would agree juveniles have more free time on their hands with distance learning, that does not explain the use of deadly weapons and engagement in violence. These same juveniles would likely be carrying a weapon(s) whether on-site schooling was an option or not. 

In the above referenced article, Acting Police Chief Robert Contee stated, “This type of crime, the sheer violent nature of it—a person having their car taken from them, in many case some type of weapon being used—is very disturbing.” Are we really to believe if these juveniles were offered on-site schooling options they would be less dangerous, or stop possessing weapons? The argument can be made the violent crimes would continue if these juveniles did attend school, the only thing that may change is the location of the crimes enacted. 

The element that has changed with the pandemic is the release of juvenile and adult offenders from county jails and state prisons on an unprecedented level. As stated by Scott Calvert from the WSJ, “Law-enforcement officials blame the rise [of carjackings] on a host of factors…less legal accountability due to pandemic-related delays and disruptions the criminal justice system.” Offenders, juveniles included, must be held accountable for their actions and crimes; there need to be policies in place which send the message that crimes and violence will not be tolerated and there will be consequences if you engage in such law-breaking behaviors.

Offenders are not being held, nor sentenced in a manner that keeps public safety at the top priority where it should be. Chief Contee said it best, “…because of the pandemic many arrested youths are being released pending a court date that could be a year away. So the kid who gets caught carjacking today, he’s seen back out in the community within the next couple of days.” The utilization of this type of policy encourages crimes and sends the message to juveniles that they can engage in criminal activity without fear of consequences. This is certainly not the answer to keeping people in our communities healthy and safe from the pandemic. 

In an article from January 2021, CBS Chicago reporter Steven Graves discussed the rise in carjackings and homicides in Chicago,IL during the pandemic. “Homicides were up more than 50%, and shootings continued to be a problem just minutes into the new year”, said Graves. It is not a logical argument to blame lack of on-site education for the spikes that are being seen in Chicago, Washington D.C., and across numerous large cities during this pandemic. According to Graves, the Chicago Police Department’s end of year crime report included many statistics, one of which is attempted carjackings reaching a 20-year high in 2020. This is not surprising in the current state of sentencing and bail reform nationally.

The changes in bail and the release of offenders from jails and prisons during the pandemic paint a clear picture of why there is a spike in crime rates. We are looking at a pattern that will continue and crime rates will likely increase under the current policies both nationally and in states such as California and Illinois.