Concerning statistics released by the FBI point to a significant increase in carjackings and auto theft in the United States in 2022, leaving experts racking their brains for a solution.
According to the data, motor vehicle theft jumped by 10.9% from the previous year, resulting in nearly a million vehicles stolen in 2022, with fewer than 70,000 arrests made.
Notably, nearly 90% of carjackings involved the use of weapons, and an increasing number of offenders worked in groups, marking a 13% rise in arrests involving multiple suspects.
One of the factors contributing to this surge in carjackings, experts suggest, is the end of lockdown measures, which provided more opportunities for thieves to target car owners.
As lockdowns lifted, people returned to their routines, and the reemergence of normal life meant more opportunities for carjackers to strike.
Adam Gelb, president and CEO of the Council on Criminal Justice, explained the role of the pandemic on the cart theft issue.
“Behind every crime is a motive and the means and an opportunity to carry it out. COVID sparked changes in all three of those elements, especially opportunity. People stayed home. Stores were closed. It was much harder and riskier to steal stuff,” Gelb said.
The increase in carjackings is not uniform across the country; it appears to be a more pronounced problem in larger cities.
For instance, Washington, D.C., witnessed a sharp rise from 140 carjackings in 2018 to 485 in 2022, and a further 651 reported in 2023.
The increase is alarming, with the 2022 crime report compiled by the FBI showcasing a decrease in other violent crimes, such as homicide, aggravated assault and rape.
Firearms were the most common weapon used in violent crimes, comprising 80.3% of murders and manslaughters, with a troubling 11.8% increase in juvenile gun deaths.
According to University of Miami Criminology Professor Alex Piquero, former director of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, carjacking has been on the rise even while other crimes have been on a downtrend.
“Not all violent crimes went down — in fact, I’m still concerned about carjacking increases—including the increasing use of guns. At the same time motor vehicle theft continues its post-pandemic increase,” he said.
Indeed, car theft and carjacking incidents have skyrocketed across many states.
In Illinois, car thefts increased by 35% between 2021 and 2022, while in Washington state, there was a 31% rise.
However, one of the most concerning aspects of this increase in carjackings is the low clearance rate. Across multiple U.S. cities, a CBS News analysis revealed that nearly all car theft cases go unsolved, with only a small fraction leading to arrests.
This issue is particularly pronounced in Denver, where there were just seven arrests for every 100 car thefts reported.
Meanwhile, in major cities like New York and Chicago, car theft has more than doubled since 2017.
Philadelphia also continues to experience staggeringly high levels of auto theft, seeing a 20% rise in cases per year and 17,000 reports last year alone.
Experts believe that several factors contribute to the low clearance rates, with budget and staffing shortages in law enforcement agencies being a significant concern.
Furthermore, experts argue that the crime should be viewed as more severe than just a property crime, as stolen cars often serve as instruments for more serious crimes, such as shootings and robberies.
“This is no different than they need a gun to commit the shooting. They need the car to commit a crime. If they don’t have the car, they can’t go do that drive-by. This is not some property crime. This is an instrument for major crimes that are killing and shooting and hurting people,” Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said.
Efforts are being made to combat the problem, including initiatives like the Cook County Sheriff’s tracker program, which allows vehicle owners to consent to law enforcement accessing tracking information in case of a theft.
However, the recovery of stolen vehicles alone may not address the larger issue of what transpires during the time a vehicle is stolen and when it’s recovered.
Another creative solution was put forward by New York City Mayor Eric Adams to distribute electronic tags to New Yorkers to track their stolen vehicles.
In response to the surge in stolen cars, some community members, like rideshare driver Matt Nalett, have taken it upon themselves to help recover stolen vehicles.
Through social media groups and vigilance, Nalett and others have been able to identify and recover thousands of stolen cars.
As experts and law enforcement agencies grapple with these challenges, there is a growing consensus that a multifaceted approach is needed to combat this concerning trend and ensure the safety of communities across the country.