Cook County sheriff: Improved vehicle tracking a 'game-changer' in curbing carjackings
With carjackings having increased 43% this year compared to the same period in 2020, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart on Thursday announced new initiatives designed to help reduce the number.
"Carjackings are plaguing our county and city," said Dart. "Everywhere, carjackings are up, and people rightfully are outraged."
Nearly 92% of Cook County carjackings took place in Chicago, according to the sheriff's department. In the suburbs, Cicero accounted for 1.5% of the county's carjackings, followed by Oak Park (.99%), Berwyn (.50%) and Broadview and Blue Island, which each accounted for .35% of carjackings. So far this year, 136 carjackings have been reported in suburban Cook County, out of 2,019 total cases, said a sheriff's department spokeswoman referring to data provided by suburban law enforcement agencies.
While more arrests are being made and more vehicles are being recovered in about half the time thanks to cooperation between law enforcement agencies, more can be done, Dart said. He referred to a new proposal involving vehicle tracking that he described as a "game-changer."
"When cars are being tracked, it makes it easier not only to catch people, arrest people and prosecute people, but it deters people," he said.
Most cars manufactured since 2015 have tracking devices installed, Dart said. However, obtaining tracking information is difficult. Meanwhile, "the clock's ticking," and vehicles are being used in other crimes, he said.
In an effort to improve vehicle tracking and recovery, Dart's office contacted auto manufacturers Ford, General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and others to help create "uniform and standardized methods," including establishing a 24/7 hotline to activate tracking capabilities. In the future, officials hope to use technology to disable stolen vehicles and help identify the thieves.
More immediately, the sheriff's website offers tips on avoiding carjacking. Dart's office will also provide a sticker owners can affix to their vehicles indicating to would-be carjackers that the vehicle is traceable. Also available on the department website is a consent-to-release-data form that, when signed by the vehicle's owner, allows police officers to obtain tracking data more quickly, which may enable them to recover the vehicle sooner. The form is available at cookcountysheriff.org/departments/c-c-s-p-d/carjacking.
Dr. Stephanie Davis, a retired Air Force physician, described being carjacked at gunpoint in September at a gas station in Harvey. According to Davis, the car dealership and automaker informed her the vehicle -- which was subsequently used in crimes in Elmhurst and Riverdale -- could not be tracked.
"Improving quick access to tracking information would be beneficial for countless victims who are trying to get their lives back," said Davis, whose vehicle was recovered Oct. 1 and likely will be returned to her later this month.
Had tracking and recovery occurred sooner, there would have been fewer victims associated with her vehicle, Davis said.
"I hope automakers will take a close look at this issue," she said. "They can be part of a real solution."
Ultimately, one of the best ways to prevent a carjacking is for drivers to stay alert and "get off their phones," said Dart.
"You literally are putting a target on yourself because you're completely unaware of anything going on around you," he said. "You're sitting in your car, your car is running, and you are completely distracted. All of a sudden someone comes up on you, and you're a victim."
The Cook County sheriff's office offers the following tips on how to avoid a carjacking:
• Stay aware of your surroundings.
• Immediately lock your doors on entry and keep them locked.
• Don't get boxed in at stopped traffic.
• Park in well-lit areas.
• Keep your phone in your pocket.
• Keep your car keys in your pocket.
• Never exit your vehicle and leave it running.
• Keep your vehicle's make, model, plate number and identification number in your wallet and on your phone.