- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2022

Carjackings in the nation’s capital have tripled since 2019. Officials say the alarming trend — reflected in similarly stunning crime statistics from the Washington suburbs and cities across the country — is driven by youngsters.

The District of Columbia recorded 426 carjackings last year, up from 360 in 2020 and 142 in 2019, a Metropolitan Police Department spokesperson told The Washington Times on Thursday.

“We have noticed that a large number of these crimes are committed by young teenagers,” the spokesperson said, with a significant number of carjackings by 13- to 16-year-olds.

The spokesperson said 100 juveniles were arrested for carjacking offenses last year compared with 59 in 2020.

The stolen vehicles “are often used to commit other crimes such as robberies and shootings,” the spokesperson said.

Police are investigating whether a burgundy Toyota Highlander that was carjacked in the District last week is connected to a string of crimes that left one person dead.

The car was linked to two double shootings on Tuesday, during which 19-year-old Devin Brewer was fatally shot. Officials also are working to determine whether the car is the same one that four people were driving when they pulled up to a gas station and carjacked a D.C. Council candidate last weekend.

Nate Fleming, who is running for an at-large seat on the council, said he was “shocked, angry and a bit embarrassed” after four young people carjacked him at gunpoint in broad daylight in Northeast on Saturday afternoon.

“To be threatened at gunpoint is shocking, but I am not surprised that I was attacked given the increase in carjackings and the crisis facing young people in this city,” Mr. Fleming tweeted. “The perpetrators of violent crime are getting younger and younger.”

D.C. Police Union President Greggory Pemberton told The Times that the police department is stretched thin. He said the force has about 3,400 sworn officers, about 400 fewer than a year ago.

“With this shortage of officers and detectives, there is a reduced ability to respond to and investigate these crimes,” Mr. Pemberton said Thursday.

The police union leader said prosecutors and judges in the District “are not taking these crimes seriously.”

“Sentences for these types of crimes are virtually nonexistent,” he said. “Until we see some significant changes to the way elected officials in D.C. view public safety, these numbers will, tragically, continue to increase.”

Other parts of the Washington area also are grappling with big increases in carjackings.

Carjackings in Prince George’s County, Maryland, have more than doubled since 2019, from 170 to 263 to 354. In Montgomery County, carjackings are up more than 300% over the same period, from 20 to 36 to 62.

Because crimes in the Washington area often span jurisdictional borders, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors in the District and the two Maryland counties formed a joint carjacking task force in May.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones told County Council members on Tuesday that the task force has been trying to pinpoint what is fueling the uptick in carjackings.

“When we really went to what was the root cause of these carjackings, there was no clearly defined root cause,” Chief Jones said during a virtual public meeting.

Assistant Police Chief Dinesh Patil, who is in charge of the Investigative Services Bureau, said a “great deal” of vehicles carjacked in Montgomery County are found in Prince George’s County and the District.

“While it is a crime of opportunity, we are being — I’ll say for a lack of better terms — attacked by crews that are working out of D.C. and other places that are coming to Montgomery County in a very thoughtful and planned way,” Mr. Patil said.

Mr. Patil said the carjacked vehicles, as in the District, are used in other crimes.

In one instance, police discovered a carjacked vehicle that was used in a robbery in Bethesda.

“We recovered one car … in a pretty short amount of time from when it was stolen, and there was blood all in and outside the car and an AR-15 in the back seat,” he said.

The region’s problems reflect a staggering rise in carjackings across the country that began when the pandemic hit. Carjackings in major cities including Chicago, Philadelphia and Minneapolis have soared over the past three years.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a Democrat, said during a news conference last month that “these carjackings, let’s be real, they are violent, they are dangerous, people are terrified by them, and they need to stop.”

Then-interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman said repeat juvenile offenders are involved in many of the carjackings.

Nearly 40 juveniles with three or more arrests for robberies or other serious crimes were involved in carjackings last year, more than half of whom had five arrests, she said.

“These young people who are so at risk are our children, the future of our city, and we collectively need to do right by them and their families through just community-oriented responses to what we see happening,” she said.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw warned motorists in that city this week that carjackers are targeting drivers with what police call the “pump and run.” 

“They initiate the carjacking by tapping your vehicle with their vehicle,” the commissioner told Philadelphia’s CBS affiliate. She urged motorists to call 911 or drive to the nearest police station if necessary. 

Philadelphia reported an average of 230 carjackings each year from 2010 to 2019, but that number soared to 757 in 2021.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of carjackings in Montgomery County in 2021.

• Emily Zantow can be reached at ezantow@washingtontimes.com.

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