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The data suggests that what we are being told about carjacking isn’t accurate

Thursday, Apr 28, 2022 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Patrick Smith at WBEZ

A new study from University of Chicago researchers raises questions about what exactly has driven the recent surge in carjackings in the city.

Chicago police officials have repeatedly laid the blame at the feet of the city’s young people, saying the violent car thefts are motivated by kids seeking joyrides or looking for a vehicle to use in other crimes. […]

In press conferences over the last 18 months, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown has highlighted the extremely young age of some of the alleged carjackers they’ve arrested and called for a combination of more services and more “accountability” for young people as a way to stem the tide of carjackings.

At a March 10, 2021 news conference, Brown said the No. 1 motivation for carjackings was joyriding.

“It’s a shame that you’ll hold a gun to someone’s head just to joyride, but that seems to be what our young people are doing that we’re capturing,” Brown said.

The problem is that CPD is only catching a small percentage of carjackers (15 percent in 2020, for instance), and apparently most of those are joyriding young people.

* But Professor Robert Vargas, director of the UChicago Justice Project, saw something interesting in the data. From his study

If youth joyrides have, in fact, been driving the carjacking spike, then one would expect most cars to be recovered as the point of a joyride is to drive the car and not sell it.

As it turns out, less than 20 percent of carjacked autos are recovered each year. Lately, it’s been closer to 10 percent. And as carjackings have risen, the percentage of recovered autos has decreased

* Back to the study

If the majority of carjacking incidents are cases of youth seeking joyrides, these data indicate that something more is happening. Either these cars are being sold for profit, or carjacking offenders are really good at hiding vehicles after their joyride. Figure 3 is a time series graph that attempts to test alternative explanations for changes in carjacking from 2017-2021. One hypothesis put forward by the Chicago Police Department has been that its carjacking taskforce contributed to a decline in carjackings. Another hypothesis is that the stimulus checks dispersed through the COVID relief bill may have reduced economic incentives for carjacking. Figure 3 illustrates no evidence to support either of these alternative explanations, as the timing of the stimulus checks and implementation of the carjacking task force had no visible impact on carjacking trends.

Figure 3 does appear to show that the joyriding (but not carjackings) may have peaked during the early months of 2021

* Professor Vargas’ conclusion

These findings are important for several reasons. The percent of recovered vehicles can shed light on the scale at which carjacking may be motivated by economics. As a panel on carjacking organized by Senator Dick Durbin made clear, carjacking is linked to the informal economy and fueled (in part) by the soaring price of used cars brought on by COVID-19 related supply chain issues (Vinicky 2022). Cars are not only stripped for parts and sold, they are also sold out of state. More information is needed to shed light on what is happening to the cars that are not getting recovered.

It is worth noting a few limitations of our analysis. Just because only 20% of carjacked vehicles are recovered, does not mean that all of those cars have been sold in the informal economy. Some may have been abandoned and never found. Others may be sitting on an impound lot. The best source of information to clarify these issues would be car insurance companies whose claims data can bring greater clarity on what happened to each of these vehicles. Our efforts to reach out to Chicago’s largest private car insurance providers for these data have gone without response.

Vargas also rightly complained that this data should be more widely available to the public. “It should not take a FOIA request and over a year’s worth of time to get an answer to a simple question about carjacking,” he wrote.

* From the referenced WTTW story above

With demand high and supply low for used cars, criminals can make a profit from stolen vehicles.

“Cars are being stolen here in the United States. There’s VIN swaps that are utilized to resell the vehicles so they’re not known that they are stolen. They’re shipped overseas, Middle East criminal enterprises,” said David Glawe, president of the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “And then cars are also shipped to Mexico. We repatriate hundreds of cars a year…after they’re stolen.”

Perpetrators may be looking for an anonymous car to use in another crime, like a drive-by shooting.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart points to that as a common motive.

If criminals were only looking for cars to use in another crime, you’d think the police would find lots more of those cars than they are.

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49 Comments
  1. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:14 am:

    The first two stories on the blog this morning really don’t cover the police in glory.


  2. - Montrose - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:20 am:

    My question is - and it is a sincere one - why is CPD pushing the joyride narrative? Do they simply not look at their own data and are making assumptions or is there some benefit to framing the issue this way?


  3. - Homebody - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:20 am:

    Decades of study have told us there is an inextricable link between economics and crime. Who could have predicted that a worldwide economic disruption in a country with no social safety net of any meaningful kind would lead to more crime for profit?


  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:21 am:

    ===why is CPD pushing the joyride narrative?===

    Because that’s who they’re catching.


  5. - City Zen - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:25 am:

    ==why is CPD pushing the joyride narrative?==

    Survivorship bias.


  6. - Bruce( no not him) - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:27 am:

    “Because that’s who they’re catching.”
    If that’s who we catch, all the other ones must be the same, right??


  7. - Google Is Your Friend - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:30 am:

    == implementation of the carjacking task force had no visible impact on carjacking trends==

    Yet we continue to sink more and more precious tax dollars into CPD


  8. - Politics Drives Policy - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:30 am:

    Don’t really care what reason is. Before JB and Lori, car jacking weren’t really as huge an issue under Rahm. Needs to be stopped regardless of reason is.


  9. - Nick - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:40 am:

    The economics of it are kind of… hopeful and yet not.

    Hopeful in the sense that ultimately car prices, and used car prices with them, will come back to earth as production recovers. Used car prices may already have turned a corner. Imports of autos are up. And with this, incentives for carjacking should decline.

    The bad news is that is still going to take quite a lot of time for the auto market to correct, so no immediate solutions on that front other than wait and hope the China lockdowns don’t set us back another year.


  10. - Back to the Future - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:41 am:

    Very interesting and good research by the U of C study group.
    It clears up a lot of misconceptions and, if used by government, could get things going in a better direction on solving these crimes.
    Good thing we have the U of C doing this kind of work.


  11. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:42 am:

    If a car is impounded doesn’t the city check vin number to see who it is registered to and notify them? Seems like a vin or other is could be etched on motor or frame or something so it could not be removed


  12. - Donnie Elgin - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:42 am:

    Over the past two years, carjackings in Chicago have skyrocketed in numbers. The narrative here is lost in the minutia of how many teens are joyriding. Sort of misses the big picture, if your carjacked it is a huge trama and you likely lose your car. Crime is a big problem and it will factor in the election. But hey the Safe-T Act kicks in fully Jan 2023/ S

    “Chicago has seen a nearly unprecedented number of vehicular hijackings in 2021 and into 2022. CBS 2 is committed to providing the most up-to-date information on these incidents as they happen”

    https://www.cbsnews.com/chicago/news/carjacking/


  13. - MisterJayEm - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:43 am:

    ===why is CPD pushing the joyride narrative?===

    Because that’s who they’re catching.

    And in the history of Chicago, no one has ever lost their job because they proposed “cracking down on juveniles.”

    – MrJM


  14. - Pundent - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:44 am:

    =Before JB and Lori, car jacking weren’t really as huge an issue under Rahm.=

    Correlation doesn’t equal causation. There’s no evidence that Rahm was doing something to prevent carjacking or that Lori (or JB for the matter) could do something different to prevent it. But the CPD loses a lot of credibility when they join bad conclusions off of such a low arrest rate. All the data tells me is that juveniles are more likely to be caught and/or have a different motivation than the majority of carjacking perpetrators.


  15. - Perrid - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:45 am:

    Classic bias in the data. Kids are dumb enough to get caught so they do get caught, and since that’s the information we have that’s the information we run with, while the criminals who have connections to chop shops or whatever get off scot-free.


  16. - DuPage - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:49 am:

    Kim “let’em go” Foxx seems to take carjacking with the same seriousness as jaywalking. That results in releasing offenders who carjack again a few days later.


  17. - Say What? - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    As a political issue, the fact that it happens at all is a loser for those in power. The rest is recovery from those who are back peddling mightily from a perceived anti-police, soft on crime mantra.

    Victims have little concern in relation to the ultimate utilization of their stolen car. Most do not blame the police for crime happening. That is generally reserved for the electeds.


  18. - MisterJayEm - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    “If a car is impounded doesn’t the city check vin number to see who it is registered to and notify them?”

    I presume that that’s how they knew who to bill for towing and storage fees.
    https://capitolfax.com/2022/04/26/this-has-gotta-change/

    – MrJM


  19. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:51 am:

    ==Don’t really care what reason is.==

    If we know the reason, we have a better chance of preventing more carjackings.


  20. - Benjamin - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:56 am:

    In fairness to the CPD, you have the press reporting stories like this one from the Sun-Times–an interview with a car thief blaming joyriding teens for the carjacking epidemic: https://chicago.suntimes.com/crime/2021/12/31/22848890/chicago-carjackings-inside-mind-chicago-carjacker

    So it’s conventional wisdom by now.

    Notably, the carjacking problem appears to be Chicago-centric, not nationwide, which is a little puzzling. If it’s driven by chop shops or black-market exports, why aren’t thieves striking in other cities with similar government and law enforcement policies? If it’s driven by a desire to commit drive-by shootings, why aren’t cities with even higher crime rates like St. Louis or New Orleans also having the same problem with carjackings?


  21. - smrides - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 10:57 am:

    May also be pushing the joyride narrative because efforts to find and shut down chop shops and theft rings have not been very successful.


  22. - Get real - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:02 am:

    The carjacking issue is not Chicago specific. It’s national.


  23. - charles in charge - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:07 am:

    ==Notably, the carjacking problem appears to be Chicago-centric, not nationwide==

    No, not “Chicago-centric.” It might not be nationwide, but several other major cities including Philadelphia and New Orleans are seeing similar trends.


  24. - charles in charge - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:11 am:

    ==you have the press reporting stories like this one from the Sun-Times–an interview with a car thief blaming joyriding teens for the carjacking epidemic==

    Yes, the media has done a very poor job reporting on this issue. An anonymous interview with a single purported “carjacker” shouldn’t be given any kind of weight as evidence of a trend, and barely passes for journalism at all.


  25. - Curious - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:13 am:

    It sounds like if we could better disrupt the flow of stolen vehicles, we could both (1) better identify the source and reason for the carjacking while (2) disincentivize the economics of carjacking.


  26. - amalia - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:13 am:

    if we know the reason, how does that affect preventing a carjacking? if it is kids joyriding we can’t provide enough programs on top of the many parks and libraries that exist. if it is selling the cars, we can supplement the kinds of task forces that work on rail yard crime, but that does not work on the front end. whatever the reason if they think they get caught more easily, it is a deterrent. more cameras on the highways does work. The City of Chicago has cameras but they have laws against the use of drones, siding with the ACLU types. need measures to apprehend quickly.


  27. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:16 am:

    ==The narrative here is lost in the minutia of how many teens are joyriding.==

    Jesus, “the narrative”. Could you be any more transparent?

    Most of us want to prevent crime. That requires that we understand who is committing the crime and why.

    Now, I get that you have a different motive. You don’t want to prevent crime, you just want to shout “CRIME” until election day and hope that that lets Rich Irvin cut Ken Griffin’s taxes.

    But you need to understand that for most of us, that’s not the highest priority, and you should get a little bit better at hiding that you actually don’t care about crime at all, you just want your side to win.


  28. - Huh? - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:20 am:

    So the Nick Cage movie “Gone in 60 Seconds” has come to real life?


  29. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:25 am:

    ==if we know the reason, how does that affect preventing a carjacking?==

    C’mon. You’re not this dumb. If we know that X causes Y, we can stop doing X. I didn’t really need to explain that to you.

    ==if it is kids joyriding we can’t provide enough programs on top of the many parks and libraries that exist.==

    Sure we can. Why not? Or we can discontinue some programs that aren’t working to make room to try some other ones.

    == if it is selling the cars, we can supplement the kinds of task forces that work on rail yard crime, but that does not work on the front end.==

    Sure it does. If we make it harder for them to sell the cars, they’ll have less financial incentive to do so.

    ==if they think they get caught more easily, it is a deterrent==

    Oh, so now knowing the reason they do it (they think they won’t get caught) *can* prevent (or deter) crime. Cool. Hey, maybe you can resolve this argument with yourself before you talk to the rest of us, huh?

    Honestly, you guys should just admit that you don’t *want* to prevent crime until November, then you wouldn’t have to look so silly.


  30. - Fixer - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:26 am:

    “they have laws against the use of drones”

    With good reason. I for one do not one something that small buzzing around vehicles while driving in the Chicago area. Never mind the ACLU thing there, it’s a safety issue for drivers.


  31. - lake county democrat - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:28 am:

    I’m surprised more cars aren’t being tracked these days with airtags being so cheap. Did lojack go out of business? Seems like the technology should be cheap enough to have some deterrence measures in these vehicles.


  32. - Amalia - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:30 am:

    Arsenal, you should not be this cranky after beating Chelsea and United. “You’re not this dumb” is beneath you. the easier way of figuring this out is seeing if plain old car thefts have gone down. it’s easier to carjack than to break into a car. that may show something.


  33. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:37 am:

    ==Arsenal, you should not be this cranky after beating Chelsea and United.==

    I shouldn’t, but when partisan hacks demonstrate that they want my fellow Illinoisans to continue to suffer so that the hacks can reap electoral gain, it has that effect on me.

    I’m not really sorry about it.

    ==“You’re not this dumb” is beneath you.==

    A hit dog will hollar.

    ==the easier way of figuring this out is seeing if plain old car thefts have gone down==

    How will that work? There’s at least one clear and important distinction between car theft and car jacking. As a wise person once said-

    “it’s easier to carjack than to break into a car.”


  34. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:42 am:

    ==it’s easier to carjack than to break into a car.==

    Also, while I’m not a professional criminal so I couldn’t say first hand, I wonder if this is even true. In a carjacking, there’s someone there who might fight you, there’s witnesses, the car can easily be put in motion, etc. In car theft, yeah, you gotta jimmy the lock and hotwire the car, but the absence of witnesses and cars in motion is a big change.


  35. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:45 am:

    Meanwhile, State Farm and Allstate just cover the cost of stolen vehicles by hiking everyone’s auto insurance rates.

    First it was catalytic converters, now it’s the whole car. And we all have to pay for it.


  36. - MisterJayEm - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:59 am:

    Hot-wiring is effectively impossible in a modern (21th century) automobile.

    Reasons detailed here: https://themotordigest.com/can-you-hotwire-a-new-car/

    – MrJM


  37. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 12:00 pm:

    ===Hot-wiring is effectively impossible===

    Yeah, but there are devices that can hack into key fob systems.


  38. - RNUG - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:19 pm:

    == Seems like a vin or other is could be etched on motor or frame or something so it could not be removed ==

    Dupage Saint, there are lots of places on the newer cars (aka 1980 up, and especially 2000 up) that have the VIN inscribed. By now, most all the major components have numbers on them. People at ISP and SOS know where to look for the VIN. It’s not as easy to relabel a car as it used to be.

    Would be interesting to know the specific makes and models being stolen. I’m sure the insurance companies have that data. Heck, I remember one time when I added the wife’s convertible to my policy, the customer service rep gave me the premium quote, and mentioned it was high because that particular make and model was the most stolen car in the country that year.

    My guess is a lot of the cars are being stolen for their parts to rebuild wrecked ones that have clean titles … that is big business.


  39. - Lucky Pierre - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:26 pm:

    In 2021 Philadelphia had 800 and New York which is 3 times bigger than Chicago had 500 carjackings.

    Chicago had 1,800 and yet our legislature and Governor do nothing to increase the penalties for carjackers.

    Only 11% of 2020 car jackings resulted in an arrest and only 4.5% resulted in charges by our State’s Attorney’s office.

    https://amp.cnn.com/cnn/2022/01/23/us/carjackings-rise-major-cities-pandemic/index.html


  40. - RNUG - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:30 pm:

    == Hot-wiring is effectively impossible ==

    Unfortunately, the various Bluetooth and key fob systems are not very secure. The flaws are pretty well known.

    And if I’m right in my previous post about the cars being stolen for parts, quite frankly it’s easier to just use a repo equipped pickup to grab and haul off a lot of new cars. If it is pros, they’ll have them under cover in a building in 15 minutes.


  41. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:54 pm:

    ===Only 11% of 2020 car jackings resulted in an arrest and only 4.5% resulted in charges by our State’s Attorney’s office.===

    Are we back to this “find then guilty, then have a trial” mentality?

    There’s a great deal to be anxious about, have angst about, even find policies broken about…

    I am tired of the attacks on the legal system, judicial system, this measure of “law and order” in terms of punishment before conviction as a policy.


  42. - Arsenal - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 1:55 pm:

    ==increase the penalties for carjackers.

    Only 11% of 2020 car jackings resulted in an arrest==

    LP, at some point are you gonna get sick of getting embarrassed like this?

    If most carjackers don’t get arrested, increasing the penalties won’t do jack.


  43. - charles in charge - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 2:14 pm:

    ==increase the penalties for carjackers==

    The average person in the custody of IDOC for any type of vehicular hijacking, with or without a weapon, is serving a 16-year sentence. Some are doing natural life. The penalties aren’t the problem. On the other hand . . .

    ==Only 11% of 2020 car jackings resulted in an arrest==

    Why do the police get a free pass for being so lousy at solving carjacking cases?


  44. - Groucho - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 2:21 pm:

    Time to turn these cases over to Columbo.


  45. - Da big bad wolf - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 3:17 pm:

    === Kim “let’em go” Foxx seems to take carjacking with the same seriousness as jaywalking. That results in releasing offenders who carjack again a few days later.===

    Citation please.


  46. - Benjamin - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 3:42 pm:

    I stand corrected about the Chicago-specifc nature of the problem. That doesn’t explain why Chicago seems to be such a hotbed of carjacking compared to (say) New York, though. Surely the laws aren’t that much tougher there, the cops aren’t that much more efficient, and the prosecutors aren’t that much more aggressive.


  47. - Demoralized - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 3:45 pm:

    @LP

    If a carjacker commits the crime using a gun then it’s already a Class X felony. Can’t go any higher than that so what increase in punishment are you looking for? The punishment isn’t the issue. Try again.


  48. - Candy Dogood - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:32 pm:

    ===Chicago police officials have repeatedly laid the blame at the feet of the city’s young people, saying the violent car thefts are motivated by kids seeking joyrides or looking for a vehicle to use in other crimes. ===

    Besides the fact that they are catching more young people and having that create their bias, this narrative also doesn’t require them to address the fact that a majority of the cars are stolen to fuel a different criminal enterprise which they do not seem to have done a whole lot to effectively counter. There is a market, informal or otherwise, for these stolen vehicles. Whether they’re parted out or sold as a whole, they’re going somewhere and they’re not being recovered and they’re not staying on the road very long.

    Whether or not they mean to, it’s easier to present “these gosh darn kids” than acknowledge that there is a group of sophisticated or at least somewhat coordinated group of criminals that are very proficiently stealing vehicles without getting caught and without that vehicle ever being recovered and they’re operating at a very impressive scale, especially if there isn’t any meaningful coordination beyond a few people working together here and there.

    Blaming children “joyriding” also presents as a call back to when they used to blame crime rates on “super predators” in order to create an excuse to dehumanize criminal offenders as we filled our prisons through over policing.


  49. - Candy Dogood - Thursday, Apr 28, 22 @ 11:54 pm:

    ===That doesn’t explain why Chicago seems to be such a hotbed of carjacking===

    I anticipate that a part of the problem may just be the police attitudes and posture that exists in Chicago — for example they might only be looking for vehicles being driven by young black men as being a potentially stolen vehicle. Then there’s also the extent to which there are so many municipalities in the area that operate with their own police forces and that communication between those police forces may not be perfect, and then even worse bias in police forces in other communities.

    If we’re eliminating that (And given the behavior of the Chicago PD over recent years, especially in their response to BLM protests and rallies I don’t really think we should be) just logistically Chicago is geographically larger, less dense in many areas, and I would anticipate it is much easier to get a stolen vehicle off of the road faster without needing to take routes that have a lot of traffic/security cameras or license plate readers. I would also anticipate it is very easy to get a vehicle into a container or into a semi trailer and onto a truck or stored without much hassle to get it to the next destination very easily which makes it harder to identify or locate a chop shop.


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