Carjackings On The Rise

Yesterday, a local news report was published indicating that there had been 450 carjackings in Essex County, NJ – setting an all-time record for this part of New Jersey. The article offered these additional insights:

So far in 2013, there have been 450 carjackings in Essex County, up from 422 in 2012, and 410 in 2011. In 2009, there were just 200. Law enforcement experts said that those numbers should scare you.

“They said they make more money stealing one car than they do slinging drugs on the street corner and their risk of getting killed by the competition is much lower,” former Morris County detective Dan Coleman explained.

A demand for nice cars has made the luxury SUVs popular with thieves, and new technology like push-button starters make hot wiring the new models virtually impossible, so criminals need the car and the key.

Ten percent of the stolen cars wind up in containers at nearby ports, Sloan reported. “There are very sophisticated rings stealing luxury cars and shipping them overseas. In a post-9/11 world we’re watching what’s coming into the port. What’s going out isn’t watched as closely,” Coleman said. Many of those cars are then sent to Africa where there is a high demand for luxury vehicles, Sloan reported. 

Surveillance footage has even shown thieves stealing cars at gas stations, following drivers home, or initiating bogus accidents by bumping cars from behind.

Overview

Carjacking is the theft of an auto while it’s occupied by its lawful operator. Carjackings are often characterized with serious threats of violence or death by gunfire or stabbing. Carjacking is on the increase throughout the world as thieves can easily make their getaway in the seized vehicle. In rare cases, the lawful operator is kidnapped as a passenger under duress, or made to drive the vehicle on behalf of his/her abductor.

In 1992, Congress passed the Federal Anti-Car Theft Act (FACTA) making it a federal crime to use a firearm to steal “through force or intimidation” a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, the law was seldom enforced since most cases are held at local or state level courts.

Commercial fleet operators whose managers use high value, target vehicles (SUVs, etc.) would be wise to educate these operators about the nature of these crimes, and steps to consider if attacked.  Trucks carrying high value goods may also be hi-jacked for their commodities.

According to the Department of Justice there are some general characteristics of carjacking events:

  • Carjacking victimization rates were highest in urban areas, followed by suburban and rural areas. Ninety three percent of carjackings occurred in cities or suburbs.
  • A weapon was used in 74% of carjacking victimizations. Firearms were used in 45% of carjackings, knives in 11%, and other weapons in 18%.
  • The victim resisted the offender in two-thirds of carjackings. Twenty-four percent of victims used confrontational resistance (threatening or attacking the offender or chasing or trying to capture the offender). About a third of victims used nonconfrontational methods, such as running away, calling for help, or trying to get the attention of others.
  • About 32% of victims of completed carjackings and about 17% of victims of attempted carjackings were injured. Serious injuries, such as gunshot or knife wounds, broken bones, or internal injuries occurred in about 9%. More minor injuries, such as bruises and chipped teeth, occurred in about 15%.
  • 68% of carjacking incidents occurred at night (6 p.m. – 6 a.m.). 
  • 44% of carjacking incidents occurred in an open area, such as on the street (other than immediately adjacent to the victim’s own home or that of a friend or neighbor) or near public transportation (such as a bus, subway, or train station or an airport), and 24% occurred in parking lots or garages or near commercial places such as stores, gas stations, office buildings, restaurants/bars, or other commercial facilities.
  • About 63% of carjacking incidents occurred within 5 miles of the victim’s home, including the 17% that occurred at or near the home. Four percent occurred more than 50 miles from the victim’s home.
  • 77% of carjackings — 98% of the completed crimes and 58% of the attempts — were reported to the police.
  • Partial or complete recovery of property occurred in 78% of completed carjacking incidents. A quarter of carjackings involved total recovery of all property.

The US Department of State offers tips on avoiding carjacking incidents:

  • Stay alert at all times and be aware of your environment. The most likely places for a carjacking are:
    • High crime areas
    • Lesser traveled roads (rural areas)
    • Intersections where you must stop
    • Isolated areas in parking lots
    • Residential driveways and gates
    • Traffic jams or congested areas

In traffic, look around for possible avenues of escape. Keep some distance between you and the vehicle in front so you can maneuver easily if necessary–about one-half of your vehicle’s length. (You should always be able to see the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you.)

When stopped, use your rear and side view mirrors to stay aware of your surroundings. Also keep your doors locked and windows up. This increases your safety and makes it more difficult for an attacker to surprise you.

Accidents are one ruse used by attackers to control a victim. Following are common attack plans:

    1. The BumpThe attacker bumps the victim’s vehicle from behind. The victim gets out to assess the damage and exchange information. The victim’s vehicle is taken.
    2. Good SamaritanThe attacker(s) stage what appears to be an accident. They may simulate an injury. The victim stops to assist, and the vehicle is taken.
    3. The RuseThe vehicle behind the victim flashes its lights or the driver waves to get the victim’s attention. The attacker tries to indicate that there is a problem with the victim’s car. The victim pulls over and the vehicle is taken.
    4. The TrapCarjackers use surveillance to follow the victim home. When the victim pulls into his or her driveway waiting for the gate to open, the attacker pulls up behind and blocks the victim’s car.

If you are bumped from behind or if someone tries to alert you to a problem with your vehicle, pull over only when you reach a safe public place.

DURING A CARJACKING

In most carjacking situations, the attackers are interested only in the vehicle. Try to stay calm. Do not stare at the attacker as this may seem aggressive and cause them to harm you.

There are two options during an attack–nonresistive, nonconfrontational behavior and resistive or confrontational behavior. Your reaction should be based on certain factors:

    • Type of attack
    • Environment (isolated or public)
    • Mental state of attacker (reasonable or nervous)
    • Number of attackers
    • Weapons
    • Whether children are present

In the nonconfrontational situation, you would:

    • give up the vehicle freely.
    • listen carefully to all directions.
    • make no quick or sudden movements that the attacker could construe as a counter attack.
    • always keeps your hands in plain view. Tell the attacker of every move in advance.
    • make the attacker aware if children are present. The attacker may be focused only on the driver and not know children are in the car.

In a resistive or confrontational response, you would make a decision to escape or attack the carjacker. Before doing so, consider:

    • the mental state of the attacker.
    • possible avenues of escape.
    • the number of attackers; there is usually more than one.
    • the use of weapons. (Weapons are used in the majority of carjacking situations.)

In most instances, it is probably safest to give up your vehicle.

AFTER THE ATTACK

Safety  —  Always carry a cell phone or radio on your person.

If you are in a populated area, immediately go to a safe place. After an attack or an attempted attack, you might not be focused on your safety. Get to a safe place before contacting someone to report the incident.

Reporting the Crime — Describe the event. What time of day did it occur? Where did it happen? How did it happen? Who was involved?  Describe the attacker(s). Without staring, try to note height, weight, scars or other marks, hair and eye color, the presence of facial hair, build (slender, large), and complexion (dark, fair). Describe the attacker’s vehicle. If possible get the vehicle license number, color, make, model, and year, as well as any marks (scratches, dents, damage) and personal decorations (stickers, colored wheels). The golden rule for descriptions is to give only that information you absolutely remember. If you are not sure, don’t guess!

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