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Baltimore City leaders grapple with ways to stop carjackings

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Dominique Maria Bonessi
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Carjackings across Baltimore City are up nearly 50% compared to last year. Police say the majority of individuals carjacking residents are minors and some of them are not old enough to legally drive. There were 383 victims of carjacking reported to the Baltimore Police Department by the end of July. That’s compared to 261 carjacking victims across the city last year during the same time period. In 2020, there were even fewer, with 259 carjacking victims through July, police data shows.

Baltimore Police Col. Richard Worley said he thinks the increase from the past two years is because people are not at home anymore due to the pandemic.

Police arrested 36 individuals between the ages of 14 years old to 16 years old on carjacking charges.

“The majority of them do not have driver’s licenses,” Worley said. “But that’s the minor offense. The [major] offense is that you’re using guns to make these carjackings.”

Worley, a Baltimore police officer, said some the car jackings have led to murder. Careful not to call them gangs, he said groups of youth meet at school and on social media. Their crimes start small, they might steal a car, and then escalate to carjackings, he said.

The Baltimore Police Department works with the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, Baltimore County and the FBI on these cases.

But not all of those accused of carjacking are young adults.

Maryland State Police and U.S. Marshals arrested a 24-year-old man of Baltimore for armed carjacking. The man is accused of ordering a ride on social media then using a handgun to steal the driver’s vehicle.

Worley said BPD has seen several repeat offenders.

“Usually what happens once we make a couple of arrests, we’re able to quash the pattern and move on and it’s up to the prosecution’s strategy or that,” he said.

While Baltimore city struggles to keep the car stealing crimes under control, Baltimore County has far fewer.

Baltimore County Police Department saw 64 carjackings reported this year, which is roughly on par with prior years.

In 2018, the county police department created a new unit to investigate carjackings, which Sgt. Brendan Duker attributes this to the lower rate of crime. Duker is a member of that unit, which is not just a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job, he said.

“Obviously carjackings happen at odd hours of the day and the night,” he said. “So [police are] dedicated and willing to come in all hours of the night to do the best they can…and proactively investigate these cases.”

To prevent carjackings, individuals should be aware of their surroundings, park in lighted areas and not spend any extra time in their vehicle, don’t leave vehicles unattended and absolutely do not leave children in the car.

“People feel like they have a sense of security in their vehicles and take their time to check their social media and other cellular devices, so the less time to be distracted inside your vehicle is great,” Duker said.

Police aren’t the only ones who are working to stop carjackings in Baltimore City. Council member Odette Ramos, who represents District 14, has some plans to improve public safety. Ramos said residents have requested lights on several city roads including in the Waverly neighborhood. Regular tree trimming is another idea.

“One of the other strategies is around trimming back trees and getting additional lighting, whether it’s cafe lighting or something else, to get those well-lit areas back,” Ramos said.

For now, it’s unclear how much these strategies could cost, and officials haven’t earmarked any funding for the effort.

Editors Note: This story has been updated to clarify the number of carjacking victims in Baltimore City.

Bethany Raja is WYPR's City Hall Reporter
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