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January 13, 2022

Carjacking surge prompts Philly police to increase mitigation efforts, share safety tips

Plain-clothes officers have been added to hotspots; Police urge people to take precautions

Crime Carjacking
Philly Carjacking Surge Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Carjackings increased by 34% in Philadelphia last year, an alarming trend that led Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw to create a new task force to investigate carjackings and increase plain-clothes officers in hotspots.

Carjackings have become such an issue in Philadelphia over the last two years that the police department directly addressed it Wednesday night.

There were 757 carjackings in 2021, a 34% increase from 2020, Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said. And there already have been 70 carjackings in 2022, according to a police spokesperson.

**A Message from Police Commissioner Outlaw** There is no single issue that is more important to me, or the members of...

Posted by Philadelphia Police Department on Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Outlaw acknowledged that the trend is alarming to many residents, but noted that police have "deployed additional resources" to combat it.

A new task force has been charged with investigating carjackings and plain-clothes officers have been assigned to areas where the crime is common. That includes parking lots, gas stations and ATMs. Residential driveways and streets with poor lighting also present good opportunities for carjackers.

Outlaw attributed the spike in carjackings to the increased use of personal vehicles for curbside services like food delivery and ridesharing. They present good opportunities for carjackers because they can be beckoned to any address in the city at any time.

She added that the mask-wearing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier for carjackers to hide their identities from victims and investigators.

The trend is not unique to Philly. Major cities across the country have experienced significant increases in carjackings during the pandemic. 

Carjackings have often been carried out by minors, a trend that some theorize may partly be due to the pandemic, which left many teenagers bored and unsupervised as schools turned to remote learning.

Sometimes, offenders are just seeking a joyride – stealing a vehicle just for thrill of it, Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown told NPR last year. But other times carjackings are used to commit other crimes. 

Safety tips

Police have identified a few best practices to keep drivers safe. They advise people to park in areas that are well lit, keep windows and doors closed and locked, and immediately begin driving after starting their vehicles. 

Drivers also should keep their cell phones in their pockets rather than elsewhere in the car so they can call 911 if their vehicles are taken.

People should be aware of their surroundings, police say. Look around for suspicious people loitering in vehicles before entering or exiting your car, and trust your instincts. If an area doesn't feel safe, park somewhere else.

Don't stop to help stranded motorists, police say. Instead, it's best to note the vehicle's location and notify first responders via 911.

What to do if you are carjacked

The most important thing to do during a carjacking is prioritize your safety over your possessions, police say. A car and the items in it can be replaced, but a life cannot.

Victims should give up their cars immediately and leave the scene, police say. Avoid verbal or physical confrontations with the carjacker before calling 911.

It's also helpful to investigators if victims can remember what the carjacker looked like and any other vehicles used in the crime.

If a child is in the vehicle, police say it's important to make that's clear so the carjacker doesn't drive away with the child.

Late last month, a woman left her 1-year-old in her running 2017 Dodge Journey while briefly popping into a North Philly store. At 11:30 p.m., officers found her screaming after carjackers drove off with her baby. Police found the child abandoned on a porch a few miles away and the vehicle nearby later that night.

'Bump and run'

Earlier this week, an off-duty police officer had his Chevy Impala rear-ended by a Honda in Germantown. Two passengers jumped out of the Honda and attempted to commit a suspected carjacking before being taken into custody, according to police.

This is an increasingly common practice known as "bump and run," police say. The idea is that a passenger in the carjackers' vehicle jumps into the victim's car as he or she surveys the damage and drives off.

Drivers who believe they may be experiencing a "bump and run" should stay in their vehicles with the doors locked, police say. Then they should put their flashers on as a signal for the other car to follow them to the nearest police station.

Rideshares and delivery drivers

Drivers working for services like Uber and Lyft and those delivering food are at particular risk, since they can easily be called out to any address in the city. And they're not only vulnerable at night.

On a mid-December afternoon, someone tried to steal a food delivery driver's vehicle after he left it unattended while bringing a meal to a customer's doorstep in Francisville. The driver reacted quickly and was able to pull the person from his vehicle with the help of people nearby. 

In early January, a Lyft driver shot two people who allegedly tried to steal his 2011 Infiniti after rear-ending it near Fairmount Park. Both suspects were arrested and hospitalized.

Anyone is vulnerable

Carjackings are happening all across the city to all kinds of people.

U.S. Rep. Mary Scanlon was carjacked at gunpoint by two suspects on Dec. 22 near FDR Park, where she had a meeting. A day later, five Delaware teens were arrested in Newark while trying to flee police.

Sometimes carjackings turn deadly.

On Nov. 28, Temple University student Samuel Collington returned to his North Philly apartment after spending Thanksgiving with his family in Prospect Park, Delaware County.

He was parking his mother's car when Olney's Latif Williams, 17, tried to take the car but shot him twice in the chest, killing him, police said. The teen turned himself in the next week 

But police often don't make much headway in solving carjacking cases. Outlaw said only 150 arrests have been made in connection to the 757 carjackings recorded last year.