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D.C. police launch task force to curb rise in carjackings

Acting police chief Robert J. Contee III, pictured at an earlier news conference, announced a task force to combat a rising number of carjackings.
Acting police chief Robert J. Contee III, pictured at an earlier news conference, announced a task force to combat a rising number of carjackings. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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D.C. police have formed a task force focusing on curbing carjackings and vehicle thefts that are surging across the city and suburbs and targeting people running routine errands, ride-share drivers and delivery services.

Acting police chief Robert J. Contee III said he has enlisted the help of police agencies in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland, as well as the FBI, with the goal being “to share information and tackle this problem.”

Contee made the announcement at a news conference on a street lined with restaurants near Nationals Park, noting the area has been hit hard by carjackings and “jump-in” thefts of vehicles left running and unattended.

Police confront surge of carjackings in District, suburbs

David Do, the director of the District’s agency that regulates for-hire vehicles, said ride-share operators have been targeted more during the pandemic because they are now delivering packages and other goods for people who are staying home.

“We’re moving from transporting passengers to transporting parcels,” Do said, which makes them attractive targets.

The chief said many of the carjackings and stolen cars can be avoided by drivers refraining from idling in one spot and taking their keys and locking the doors, even if they’re gone for only a few seconds.

Said Do: “Leaving your car on for just a second is not worth it.”

The number of carjackings in the District more than doubled from 142 in 2019 to 345 last year. There have been 46 carjackings in the District through Feb. 4 of this year, compared with eight over the same time period in 2019.

Vehicle thefts went up 51 percent last year and are up again so far in 2021.

The District is among several cities across the country experiencing similar crime trends. This week, the Police Executive Research Forum, which advises law enforcement agencies on best practices, published statements from police officials in four cities facing spikes in carjackings and auto thefts.

Authorities in those cities said many of the assailants are school-aged youths, often armed with guns or knives, who sometimes assault their victims, even those who comply. They said youthful offenders — idle because of the pandemic — account for much of the increase.

Representatives from police agencies in the District, Chicago, New Orleans and Minneapolis described the carjackings as “crimes of opportunity,” rather than people out looking for specific model vehicles. Police say high-end Land Rovers and Porsches are as likely targets as Hyundais and Hondas.

In some cases, the stolen cars are used to commit robbery sprees, but police also said others are being taken just for joyrides.

“There’s really no pattern to where it’s happening,” Assistant Chief Leslie Parsons of the D.C. police told the forum. “The city is broken up into seven districts, and we’ve seen an increase in all seven. It’s been a small increase in some, and a giant increase in others.

“The victims are ordinary folks,” Parsons said. “It could be somebody sitting outside warming their cars up. It could be somebody who parks their car, gets on their phone, and isn’t paying attention to what’s going on around them.” “We’re also seeing delivery drivers targeted — Uber Eats, Instacart, etc. And we’ve seen suspects getting into Uber cars.”

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