By Megan Hickey

CHICAGO (CBS) — For the first month of 2021, carjacking reports are up a staggering 238% over the same period last year. That is more than 203 carjackings just in the month of January.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey combed through a batch of 50 recent carjacking reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, looking at the circumstances surrounding each of these crimes. It became apparent that the majority of these cases were crimes of opportunity — new cars, old cars, affordable rides and luxury vehicles. There was no pattern when it comes to make and model of the carjacked vehicles and no trend when it came to victim demographics.

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Former FBI agent and security consultant Ross Rice said carjackers don’t need to target luxury cars, because few are actually trying to keep them or sell them for parts.

“My estimation is that they’re using these what we refer to in law enforcement as a ‘work car.’ It’s a car that they can use to commit another crime with, and it’s not going to be traced back to them, because they’re going to dump it as soon as they’re done,” said Rice.

CBS 2 had Rice and Northwestern University Professor Wesley Skogan, who studies crime policy and policing, take a look at our findings.

“This this list is very, very, very helpful thing, and I’d say it’s almost completely congruent with everything I’ve heard coming from the community policing offices,” said Skogan.

There was one trend: Nearly 70% of the carjackings in this sample involved victims who were in parked cars, getting out of or into parked cars or standing near parked cars. CBS 2 also found that only four of the incidents happened while the victims were actually driving, and in only one carjacking did the victim leave the car running.

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Nearly half the narratives mentioned people exiting cars after arriving at a destination, or entering the car as they were getting ready to drive away.

“The victims are typically close to their car or either they’re sitting in it,” said Skogan. 

“It equates to a law enforcement officer — it’s very hard sometimes to do a traffic stop when the vehicle’s moving. So if you can catch somebody at a stop light, you catch somebody at a parking space, it’s much easier to overpower and surprise them, and get keys to the car,” said Rice.

That is why both experts stressed the importance of situational awareness.

“So if you’re sitting in your car stationary, looking at your phone, you’ve obviously got your key, you have your wallet,” said Skogan. “This is not a situation you want to be in. You should be exiting and entering your vehicle quickly.”

There were also six reports for victims who appeared to be rideshare drivers and three people stopped by carjackers while walking through alleys.

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Some of the reports didn’t have suspect descriptions, and many were very vague, but the majority of the descriptions that were provided were male — in their teens or early 20s.

Megan Hickey