By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — A retired Chicago firefighter going to get popcorn was recently shot to death by would-be carjackers. He is one of many carjacking victims, as the city has seen a massive spike in carjackings during the pandemic. That may be because the pandemic has changed the opportunities for crime.

“I think it’s just going to keep getting worse,” said State Rep. Jaime M Andrade Jr. (D – 40th District). “I think it’s going to get worse if there’s no accountability.”

Carjackings are up 127% in 2020 compared to the same time period last year, with 532 carjackings in 2019 and 1,209 in 2020.

The statistical surge is punctuated by the tragic death of a former Chicago firefighter who was shot and killed in an attempted carjacking Thursday in Morgan Park.

“We’re not surprised,” Andrade said.

He has been woking for years to try to strengthen penalties for carjackers and was able to pass a 2018 bill that made it easier for investigators to show that a car was stolen. But he argues that prosecutors and judges often go easy on the offenders.

“I’m just pleading and asking them to prosecute the possession of stolen motor vehicles to the fullest exten of the law,” he said.

Chicago police have complained about prosecution, too, and they are acknowledging the uptick. When CBS 2 checked in earlier this year, CPD said they were going to reconvene the carjacking task force and in some cases push for federal charges when they can. In February CBS 2 was told the carjacking task force would add additional officers, covert officers and dedicated state and federal prosecutors. CPD did not get back to CBS 2 Friday when we asked if that has actually been happening.

But why the surge in carjackings?

“It’s almost like a robbery on steroids,” said Professor Dave Olson of Loyola’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

Olson said, in part, carjacking is often a money-making option during an uncertain time, but pandemic behavior changes may also be playing a role.

“It’s more difficult to commit other crimes like burglaries because people are home more now during the pandemic. If it’s more difficult to commit that’s because there aren’t as many people out,” he said.

Morgan Park, the neighborhood where Lt. Dwain Williams was killed had four carjackings year-to-date in 2019. This year they have had 9.

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Megan Hickey