In a year when Chicago struggled with violent crime, an analysis of police data shows 2020 came to a close with carjackings more than doubling in the city over the prior 12 months to a total unseen in nearly two decades.

Carjackings rose about 135%, to 1,415 in 2020 from 603 in 2019, according to the Tribune review of police information. The 2020 tally was the highest figure recorded here since 2001, when Chicago logged only slightly more with 1,422, the city statistics show.

The spike came at a time when gun violence also skyrocketed as the city struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic and experienced unrest following the Memorial Day death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota. Experts have said both likely influenced crime totals here as the economy suffered and community trust in the police was severely eroded.

There are also likely a variety of reasons for the dramatic rise specifically in carjackings, police have said, including the general public’s use of masks for coronavirus protection, enabling criminals to conceal their faces without raising alarm. Gangs are often to blame, police said, because they sometimes use stolen vehicles as they commit more crimes.

“The gangs are using these vehicles because they feel they can’t be traced,” said South Chicago District Capt. Michael Murphy, whose patrol district saw carjackings jump in 2020 to 97 from 36 the year before. “They can do their crimes, whether it be shootings or whatever it is, and then dump the car,”

And there may have been more carjackings in 2020 than the city’s figures show. For instance, retired Chicago Fire Department Lt. Dwain Williams was shot and killed in early December when assailants tried to carjack him near a popcorn shop on the Southwest Side, authorities said, an incident categorized as a homicide instead of a carjacking. Later in the month, 33-year-old Shuai Guan was fatally shot near his home in the Bridgeport neighborhood after a carjacker demanded the key to his white SUV, a crime also logged as a homicide.

The patrol districts with the most carjackings in 2020 were on Chicago’s South and West sides, areas of the city challenged the most by high crime and in need of more social services.

The West Side’s Harrison District, which encompasses such communities as East and West Garfield Park, ended the year with 185 carjackings, a 134% jump over 2019 when 79 were recorded, statistics show. In the Gresham District, which includes such South Side areas as Auburn Gresham and Chatham, carjackings were up from 43 to 109, a 153% increase, according to the statistics.

But the increase was seen across the city. In the North Side’s Town Hall District, which covers Wrigleyville, Lakeview and parts of Lincoln Park, carjackings more than tripled, going from 11 in 2019 to 39 last year, according to the statistics. And the crime more than doubled in the Shakespeare District, home to Logan Square, Wicker Park and Bucktown, to 58 in 2020 from 28 the year before.

The Tribune reported in October that the 2020 surge in carjackings was already double that of 2019.

On Friday, about 20 concerned citizens gathered in the South Side’s Calumet Heights community to hand out flyers door to door, information telling citizens how to prevent being a victim of a carjacking and other crime.

Jerry Brown, an area resident who organized the event, said he drives the type of vehicle that could attract criminal attention.

“I’ve been attacked before. I’ve been able to protect myself,” said Brown, 66. “Keep your head on a swivel is basically it. … Be aware of what’s going on. Sometimes if these young guys that are planning on coming at you, the best weapon they’ve got is the element of surprise. So if we can take that away … sometimes that will stop (them).”

Brown said he has his own thoughts on the reasons for the 2020 carjacking spike.

“The lack of opportunity for some kids, lack of resources for some kids, you know, financial, you know, and then sometimes it’s just out-and-out evil,” he said.

Other residents at the march agreed with Brown’s tips, saying making sure to be aware of one’s surroundings is the key.

In her walk through the community on Friday, Ald. Michelle Harris, whose 8th Ward covers Calumet Heights, said her constituents have asked for more police resources in the area to thwart carjackers.

In a Tribune interview, Murphy, the captain from the Chicago police’s South Chicago District, which covers Calumet Heights, also offered some safety tips for motorists to prevent becoming the next carjacking victim.

“Try not to sit in the cars on that long telephone call, you know, or things like that, because you’re distracted,” Murphy said at Friday’s event. “Get in the car. Go to where you need to go. Get out of the car. Go in. Get back to your car. Have your keys ready. Get in the car and go.”

Murphy also warned about the bump-and-run tactic that carjackers use to gain control of vehicles. Criminals use another car to bump into the rear of a victim’s vehicle, police have said, and then when the victim gets out of the car to assess the damage, the car is either stolen or taken away by force.

“If you’re tapped and you think this might be some sort of ploy, somebody’s bumping into you to get you to pull over like it’s a car accident or something like that, and you don’t feel right about it,” Murphy said, “go to the closest police station.”


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