Law enforcement officials call for tougher prosecutions amid increase in carjackings
Law enforcement officials on Tuesday called for increased efforts to prosecute carjacking offenses while acknowledging that the majority of those crimes appear to be committed by juveniles, which complicates punishing such offenders.
Major cities across the country are experiencing a troubling upward trend in violent crime stoked by the COVID-19 pandemic, officials told the Senate Judiciary Committee. Carjackings in Washington, D.C., have nearly tripled in the past two years and in New York City, that count has quadrupled in the last three, officials said.
But widespread prosecution of juvenile offenders proves to be difficult due to the nature of crime, which can involve groups of people that switch out drivers for those under 18, who face less severe penalties, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said.
“Carjacking is reasonably easy to commit and difficult for us to prosecute,” Dart said during his testimony.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he’s called on the FBI to create a national database on carjackings.
Dart also called on the auto industry to do its part by helping law enforcement track vehicles using geolocation equipment to help find stolen cars and apprehend suspects more quickly.
Justin Herdman, a former U.S. attorney in Ohio, encouraged the panel to consider redefining federal statutes to include a conspiracy offense to target adults who orchestrate and are involved in the crimes.
Perpetrators are often young people: Last year, 85 of 132 carjacking arrests in D.C. were juveniles, according to The Washington Post. Just this past Friday, a 14-year-old girl was arrested in D.C. for five carjacking offenses, four of which were with a pistol, the Post reported.
In Philadelphia last December, a 12-year-old boy was charged with beating a 70-year-old man to death in a carjacking, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
“Many of these carjackings are also committed by juveniles seeking to gain notoriety on social media or as part of gang initiations,” said Dallas Police Chief Edgardo Garcia.
Lawmakers themselves have not been spared from such crimes.
Earlier this year, a D.C. Council candidate was carjacked in the district, as was Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.) while in Philadelphia.
Dart, in suggesting mechanisms to find vehicles faster, cited the notion that it could prevent additional crimes from being committed.
“I’m a former prosecutor and I can tell you firsthand the quicker we can get that vehicle, the less chance it’ll be used in another crime, and the more likely we’ll be able to convict somebody. The longer it takes, the less likely we can convict anyone,” Dart told the panel.
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