The Policy Shop: How Chicago became the Stolen Motor City
This edition of The Policy Shop is by writer Patrick Andriesen
Detroit is the Motor City. Chicago is the Stolen Motor City.
Car thieves and carjackers have gotten so bold, that a carjacking recently took place near Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Gold Coast mansion. The only reason the two suspects didn’t finish the crime was because they couldn’t drive a stick-shift. If at first you don’t succeed, they tried again – and got caught nearby because three police agencies happened to be out that night and had a high-tech helicopter at their disposal.
But that level of brazen crime is because getting caught is a rarity in Chicago.
Chicago carjackings and motor vehicle thefts have exploded since 2019. Carjackings were down in 2023 from the year before but still nearly twice pre-pandemic numbers. Arrests rarely happen: of 1,307 carjackings in 2023, only 79 arrests were made.
Vehicle theft hit a record high in 2023, but the arrest rate hit a record low.
In the 23 years of data publicly available, there were never as many car thefts as Chicago saw in 2023: 29,063
The Chicago Police Department’s ability to catch car thieves also reached historic lows. For every 100 cars stolen, an arrest was made in less than three of the crimes.
Odds are good for the criminal element, not so much for police.
So what is Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson doing about it?
He released his public safety plan in December. The “People’s Plan for Community Safety” calls for curbing crime through outreach and intervention with the “highest promise” youth and adults. The plan doesn’t specify how “highest promise” individuals will be identified or how they will be saved from a life of crime.
But his 2024 budget eliminated 833 police positions, compounding the 614 positions eliminated by former Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Officers consequently made over 1,000 fewer car theft arrests last year than when sworn police ranks were at their peak in 2007.
According to a recent poll, 64% of Chicagoans said they felt unsafe. And respondents indicated they wanted more police, not fewer. A RealClear Opinion Research survey showed 77% of Black Chicagoans want to see as many or more police in their communities. Close to 80% of all Chicagoans answered the same way.
Addressing rising crime in Chicago starts with reducing the police officer shortage, providing adequate resources for judges determining whether to release or hold people ahead of trial, and ensuring witness protection so police are able to obtain vital information needed to identify and pursue criminals.
It continues with the city reforming and repairing its failing school system through school choice and educational diversity, as well as fostering job growth by getting city crime, taxation and regulation under control.
Counseling high-promise youth to eschew carjacking might be a longer, tougher route that leaves even Illinois’ governor uneasy whenever he leaves home.