Carjackings are on the rise in NE Ohio. Experts say a few steps can help avoid being a target
According to data from Cleveland Division of Police, there were 96 carjackings in Cleveland in 2021.
They occurred citywide and are on the rise across the county as well.
This map shows all the carjackings, categorized by the police department as Aggravated Robbery/Motor Vehicle Theft, in Cleveland in 2021.
The Crime Strategies Unit with the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's office reported 355 violent car thefts in 2020 and 433 in 2021, a single year increase of 22 percent.
Recent incidents, including the killing of a Cleveland police officer on New Year’s Eve, a series of motor vehicle thefts in Little Italy, along with a series of carjackings on Cleveland's West Side last March, have raised questions about what can be done to stop these crimes.
“It’s a traumatic experience,” said Special Agent Patrick Lentz of the Cleveland FBI office. Unless the target of a carjacking has special training, Lentz said, they should comply and focus on being a good witness.
“To whatever extent possible, remember the physical description, the clothing, whatever tattoos are visible, the direction of travel, anything you can do to assist law enforcement,” Lentz said.
The city of Lakewood posted on its website a list of steps that anyone can take to help prevent becoming a victim, including:
- Keep door and windows locked when inside the car.
- Always have your mobile phone handy.
- Practice safe parking. Stick to well-lit areas.
- Park in a spot close to the building’s main entrance and in a well-lit area. Don’t sit in the car and go through receipts or have a conversation on the phone or with your child in the backseat. Get in, lock the doors and go.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Pay special attention to people who seem to be lurking or cars that suspiciously follow you into driveways. Call 911 and use your key fob or other car alarm if you feel a threat.
- Be wary of how carjackers lure victims. These include bumping your car, pretending to be a stranded motorists or flashing their lights as if there were something wrong with your car. In each of these scenarios, you might be tempted to pull over—only to have your car taken. Stay inside with the windows shut and the doors locked and, if you feel a threat, drive to the nearest police or fire station.
- Stay alert at intersections. Observe 360 degrees around you through your mirrors and windows. Keep about one-half of the length of your vehicle between you and the vehicle ahead of you, so that you can maneuver out if necessary. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to see the rear tires of the vehicle ahead of you.
Lentz agreed with these measures. He said it’s not clear why there’s been a spike in carjackings recently. Some of it might have to do with COVID-19 and people spending more time inside their homes, leading to fewer opportunities for robberies or break-ins.
There was a drop in most crime categories last year in Cleveland, including a 14 percent drop in robberies and 28 percent drop in breaking and entering burglaries. Motor vehicle theft overall increased by 12.5 percent.
And once the cars are stolen, Lentz said, there continues to be several uses for them.
“Some of the vehicles that are taken are never found, some are found crashed, some have been parted out,” Lentz said. “Of greatest concern are people stealing these cars and then using them to commit another violent crime.”