Chicago police officer’s murder underscores carjacking, car theft surge

Chicago police officer’s murder underscores carjacking, car theft surge

Chicagoans reported 2,619 fewer vehicle thefts during the first four months of 2024 compared to the same period in 2023, but cases remain more than double what they were just a few years ago as arrests remain low. One carjacking took a police officer’s life.

In the early hours April 21, Chicago Police officer Luis Huesca was returning home in Gage Park when a stranger approached his driver’s side window, pulled a gun and fired 10 times at the uniformed officer before taking his car and fleeing.

“If they will do that to a Chicago police officer, why does anybody think the average citizen stands a chance in any of these situations? Because you do not,” Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Union President John Catanzara said in a video following the fatal carjacking.

Xavier Tate Jr. was taken into custody May 1 and charged with first-degree murder, aggravated carjacking and possession of a stolen firearm.

Huesca’s case was one of 7,390 motor vehicle thefts and carjackings Chicagoans reported through April 30. That’s 2,619 fewer than during the same four months of 2023 – a 26% drop. But it was a drop from record-high vehicle crimes while the arrest rate continued at near record lows.

Car thefts and carjackings in Chicago were relatively low until 2022. That’s when a viral video exposed technical vulnerabilities in vehicles manufactured by Kia and Hyundai.

The video created thousands of potential car thieves. Paired with a sharp uptick in carjackings at the start of the pandemic when residents were mostly staying home, those factors led to a citywide surge in vehicle crimes that continue to drive Chicago’s epidemic today.   

As these crimes have continued, the ability of police officers to catch criminal offenders has diminished. From January through April of 2024, the arrest rate for vehicle theft only reached 3.34% – the second-lowest rate on record when comparing the first four months of each year.

The data also showed Chicago’s minority and lower-income communities continued to bear the brunt of the crime wave. So far in 2024, 71% of all vehicle thefts were on the city’s South Side and West Side.

Mayor Brandon Johnson’s own home neighborhood of Austin on the West Side led the city in terms of total vehicle crimes as of April 30, reporting 345 motor vehicle thefts and carjackings since the start of the year.

Data for the 12 months through April shows Black Chicagoans were 4.5 times more likely to be the victim of a violent vehicle crime than white Chicagoans. The next-most impacted group were Hispanic Chicagoans, who were 3 times more likely to be the victim of a violent vehicle theft than their white counterparts.

Chicagoans can protect their vehicles from car thieves by installing aftermarket security devices, hidden kill switches, wheel locks and GPS trackers. But the threat of violent carjackers requires another solution.

So far Johnson’s response to rising, violent crime has been to reduce budgeted police by 833 positions. The Chicago Police Department is operating with at least 1,447 fewer officers than in 2019 when former Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office. Huesca’s mother asked Johnson to stay away from the funeral because of those cuts.

Studies show the more police there are, the lower the crime totals. They also show it’s important to have officers visible, especially at night.

City leaders must face this problem, which means making sure enough police officers are on the beat and in the right roles, the courts can process cases efficiently, and prosecutors and judges are able to do their jobs effectively.

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