The Chicago area continues to see a spike in carjackings despite recent efforts to crack down on the crime.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office estimates up to 1,600 carjackings will be committed this year. In response, a multi-agency effort is in place to try and stop and find carjackers before the vehicle is used to commit other crimes.
On a recent hot summer day in Chicago, a carjacking task force was on a mission.
There are eyes in the sky and cameras rolling as Deputy Roe Conn and his team track down a stolen vehicle.
“Took us all the way from the South Side, flipped around on 95th Street off 94th, went back northbound on the Stevenson heading south, got off Damen working its way to 43rd Street,” Conn said.
As the officers navigate the streets and move ground units into position, the occupants ditch the stolen Lexus and manage to escape on foot.
“The 9th District is going to do the paperwork on the car, recover the car and put it on the record that the offenders ran into a specific address,” Conn said. “They also need to determine if the vehicle is wanted for other stuff, so now it’s moved to the detectives.”
WTTW News visited the sheriff’s office command center, a headquarters where Conn works on a crime analytics database tracking patterns of carjackings throughout the city.
“We have investigators who are on 24 hours, seven days a week looking for hijacked or other felony vehicles involved in shootings, armed robberies, or things like that,” said Conn, who worked as a radio host before moving into law enforcement.
According to the sheriff's office dashboard, nearly 42% of carjackings happen curbside, 31% on the street and 6% at gas stations. Often, criminals ambush a victim on foot.
“It happens far more on the South, West sides than it happens downtown. It impacts communities where people can’t afford to steal their car,” Conn said.
The vehicular hijacking team is made up of Illinois State Police, Chicago Police Department, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart has been working to control the problem. Recently, a bill he spearheaded passed into law that helps locate hijacked cars through a program run by automakers.
“So, the legislation requires a 24-hour hotline so when a carjacking occurs, we can immediately get tracking going, and we are going to get through some of the present hurdles,” Dart said.
Back on the street, Conn takes us on his next mission.
“We’re going to the West Side where a U-Haul van is involved in a bunch of retail thefts,” he said.
As the night goes on, the team continues to follow leads.
“This is the car we are now looking at,” he explained. “From another police agency who is looking for this car, they sent us a picture for a license plate reader.”
This time, the driver of the car being tracked is suspected of being involved in a violent crime at the University of Chicago campus.
Without helicopter support, the team depends on camera plate readers to pinpoint the car’s path.
“Let's see if he flips around. Now he knows people are on to him,” Conn said. “So, he took off, and at 95th Street … if he heads this way, he will hit on a plate reader.”
Six hours into the mission and they call it a night.
“It was a slow night for us. We had minimal air support, which really hurt us,” he said. “But we were still able to recover vehicles that have been stolen and we have leads on some other vehicles as well. All in all It was a fair night.”