In the months before an unidentified man broke into her car and stole her Maltese-Yorkie, Ashley, a young medical professional, recalled hearing reports about carjackings occurring throughout the D.C. region, many of which involved youth who had ambushed unsuspecting drivers.

After she herself would be added to a list of victims last July, Ashley learned from the police that her assailant, prior to stealing her vehicle from a CVS Pharmacy parking lot in Northwest, had just exited a Mercedes Benz that had presumably also been stolen.

Fortunately, Ashley would be reunited with her dog about a month after the crime. However, the entire scenario has since compelled her to exercise extreme caution at all times.

“I’m a lot more alert about what’s going on and my dog hasn’t gone anywhere,” she said. “I’m just terrified that someone will break into my car [again] and steal her. It was a scary moment [especially] not knowing if this was a random attack or if someone had watched me leaving my boyfriend’s house.”

Since then, she’s retreated to the suburbs.

“I just moved out of the city [and] I don’t leave my car running anymore,” she said.

Officials Respond to Inexplicable Rise in Crime

Data compiled by the Metropolitan Police Department [MPD] shows that as of March 5, 556 motor vehicle thefts have been reported in the District. The figure represents an increase of more than 40 percent from what had been recorded around the same time last year.

And while law enforcement officials have reported an uptick in this type of property crime since the start of the pandemic, they said the frequency has increased over the last several months, particularly at the hands of perpetrators under the age of 25.

In February, acting MPD Chief Robert Contee announced the launch of a task force to tackle carjackings, auto thefts and the unauthorized use of vehicle offenses taking place across the District. MPD also established a partnership with the Department of For-Hire Vehicles and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to better encourage food delivery drivers to take precautionary measures.

In terms of the aforementioned task force, a group of detectives, in conjunction with the FBI, ATF and U.S. Attorney’s office have dedicated their combined resources to reduce the frequency of car thefts.

Other partners in the endeavor include police departments from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, along with the Metro Transit Police, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services [DYRS], the Department of Forensic Sciences and Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency.

MPD spokesperson Dustin Sternbeck likened the task force to a similar group formed to address robberies less than a decade ago.

“This task force allows these detectives to focus on similar cases to see if there are any patterns and trends,” Sternbeck said. “We’re talking about some of the same suspects [being] involved. This brings everything into a smaller group of folks dedicated to this particular issue. And DYRS is involved with our folks which is key [for] anytime we can share information that deters some of the behavior among youth.”

Considering the Bigger Picture

Since the pandemic’s start, youth carjackings have skyrocketed in major U.S. cities including Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City (Missouri) and Louisville. Officials in those cities said the majority of crimes have involved youth between the ages of 12 and 20 who have capitalized on recent mask mandates.

In the District, MPD officers arrested a 12-year-old on March 4 who has been implicated in one carjacking and three attempted others all of which took place in Northeast. According to reports, the youngster and another suspect approached each driver and brandished a handgun.

On March 5, police officers reportedly arrested a 13-year-old youngster who would be charged in three incidents that occurred several months earlier. One alleged car theft happened in November on Nannie Helen Burroughs Avenue in Northeast with the others reported on Gault Place in Northeast in December and Anacostia Road in Southeast in January.

Throughout the pandemic, private investigator Henderson Long has spread the word among his networks about District-based carjackings in efforts to gather information about possible suspects.

Though he commended Contee’s efforts and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s appointment of Contee, Long told The Informer that there remain bigger forces at play that have fueled the surge of carjackings across the D.C. metropolitan region.

In noting that not all crimes are committed by impoverished people, Long acknowledged that solving this issue still requires getting at the root of the social, economic and historic challenges facing the Black family.

“[Carjacking is] exciting to some young people – there’s no one reason why,” Long said. “But if you get into the family unit and dynamics, we have a lot of problems with generational wealth gaps. When you have people living in poverty, crime is [sometimes] all they know. Most of their friends are doing it, so we have a culture.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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