Posted on March 11, 2022

Why Carjacking Is on the Rise Among Teens

Campbell Robertson, New York Times, March 1, 2022

The quiet alley behind his mother’s house was where Tariq Majeed, a 45-year-old father of three, often came for some uninterrupted work. He ran a car-detailing business, and around midday on a chilly Tuesday in late January he was deep-cleaning the back seats of a client’s BMW. He felt a nudge from behind and turned to find it was a gun.

The gunman — who was masked and, Mr. Majeed estimated, could not have been older than a teenager — demanded the keys. When Mr. Majeed fumbled to get them out of his work apron, the young man slammed the gun into the bridge of his nose. Mr. Majeed doubled over, the keys fell out of the apron, and seconds later the car was gone.

The police quickly found the BMW, which had been shut off remotely by an anti-theft system and left behind. They told Mr. Majeed that earlier that morning there had been another carjacking, of a Dodge Durango at a Shell station up the road. The Dodge, too, had been abandoned — not far from where Mr. Majeed was working. No one has been caught.

“I honestly believe it’s a game,” Mr. Majeed said. Stolen cars used to be stripped down, with the parts sold for cash, he said. Now people are carjacked, and the cars are often found afterward, crashed or just left on the street. {snip}

In the strange math of the past two pandemic years, as different kinds of crime have spiked and plummeted, carjacking has made an alarming resurgence. The number of reported incidents nearly quadrupled in Philadelphia from 2019 to 2021 and is on track to double this year; Chicago had more than 1,900 carjackings last year, the highest number in decades. Two months into 2022 the number of armed carjackings in New Orleans was already at two-thirds the whole year’s tally in 2019. Washington, D.C., where 426 carjackings were reported last year, is not an exception.

There are reasons carjacking may have begun proliferating even as robbery rates dropped in 2020: Push-button ignitions have made it harder to operate cars without getting the keys from the driver; supply chain problems boosted the price of used cars as millions found themselves in economic straits; and the pandemic ushered in an army of delivery workers, often stopping in unfamiliar neighborhoods. Ride-share drivers, the police said, have been summoned, then robbed on arrival.

But none of this fully explains what officials say is the most troubling part of the trend: the ages of so many who have been arrested. Fourteen-year-olds, 12-year-olds, even 11-year-olds have been charged with armed carjacking or in some cases murder.


Carjacking is a hard crime to analyze. In statistics, it is often mixed in with other auto theft and robbery crimes. Arrest rates are low — fewer than one in eight carjackings in Chicago resulted in arrest in 2020, according to a study by the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab — making conclusions hard to draw. Young people are more likely to be caught, criminal justice experts say, and thus show up disproportionately in arrest numbers.

Still, something appears to be happening. Karl A. Racine, the attorney general of the District of Columbia, reported that from 2020 to 2021 his office saw a 60 percent drop in the number of juvenile cases in virtually every category of violent crime. Carjacking cases, however, nearly tripled.

More than half of those arrested on carjacking charges in Washington in the past year were under 18, including two girls in their early teens who pleaded guilty to charges of murdering a 66-year-old delivery driver; a pair of 15-year-olds charged last month with taking more than a dozen cars at gunpoint; and a 14-year-old girl arrested last weekend who was accused of taking part in four carjackings, three of them armed.

The mayor and the police chief say that there is too little accountability and that young people who are arrested on carjacking charges are often right back out in the community. Of the 151 carjacking arrests in 2021, police officials said, 85 involved juveniles with prior criminal records.