Baltimore police leaders are warning the public of a disturbing rise in carjackings and robberies of rideshare drivers and passengers.
According to Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, the department is investigating dozens of carjackings related to the ridesharing apps. Harrison said that in many cases, the perpetrator will order a ride on a rideshare app like Uber or Lyft, and then steal the rideshare driver’s car and phone. Using the victim’s app, the carjacker will then pick up unsuspecting passengers and rob them via mobile payment apps or by taking them to ATMs and making them withdraw cash.
“These incidents involve both drivers and customers, with multiple incidents where victims were forced into the vehicle, essentially being kidnapped, and then driven around to various areas,” Harrison said at a recent news conference.
Harrison also emphasized the severity of the crimes.
“Many of these people, if not all of them, have been severely traumatized because it’s not just carjacking, it’s a kidnapping, and then they’re driving around to go to an ATM [and are] forced to withdraw money from ATM,” he explained.
Since November 22, there have been 39 cases involving carjackings of rideshare drivers, with most occurring in the department’s southern district. So far, six teens suspected of being behind 12 cases of the cases have been arrested. According to the commissioner, four of the six suspects were aged from 15 to 18 and have prior arrests. In addition, one of the suspects had two existing warrants out for his arrest.
Nine more people have also been arrested in relation to rideshare carjackings. However, despite the arrests, Harrison said the department continues to see similar crimes taking place.
“While we have made some arrests, we saw it continue so we know that there are more people out there who have not yet been arrested,” he said.
Harrison then urged the public to help police identify the perpetrators. He said the suspects are mostly juveniles — both male and female — and often work in pairs or groups.
“It is important for our riders to be able to get around, especially in colder months, to buy groceries, to go to work, to run errands. And therefore this is absolutely a top priority for all of us,” Harrison said. “We must protect the quality of life of our friends, our neighbors and our co-workers.”
Uber and Lyft each released statements regarding the trend.
“The reported attacks are horrifying,” Uber said. “We’re in close touch with law enforcement to support their continued investigation and worked with them to send safety tips to riders and drivers in the Baltimore area.”
Lyft called the crimes “unacceptable,” and said it has offered support to impacted drivers.
“Safety is fundamental to Lyft, and the incidents described are deeply troubling,” a Lyft spokesperson said.
On December 7, a Lyft driver was targeted by a group of armed suspects posing as customers. The driver was robbed and imprisoned in their own trunk.
Another incident involved a man who ordered an Uber ride from the valet of the Horseshoe Casino. He was subsequently assaulted and robbed.
According to Special Agent in Charge Thomas Sobocinski of the Baltimore field office, the FBI is working with city police to investigate numerous individuals.
“Give the criminals what they want — whether your car, your keys, your wallet — it is not worth risking your life to do this,” Sobocinski advised the public.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General also plan to prosecute the cases.
Harrison said the BPD has updated its carjacking protocols to obtain more information on incidents in real time and to upload information to the department’s license plate reader system. Authorities also urged the public to take more safety precautions before using ride-sharing apps, including first confirming the car’s license plate, make and model and double-checking the driver’s identity with the photo in the app.
Over the past few years, law enforcement agencies have reported an increase in carjackings across the country. In Baltimore this year, there have been 561 incidents — 70 more than last year.