Auto thefts, carjackings on the rise throughout North Shore – Chicago Tribune
Police across the North Shore are pleading with residents to lock their cars and be careful getting in and out of them, saying that an existing pattern in which cars are stolen and often used to commit other crimes has escalated into carjackings and armed street robberies.
“The pattern we’re experiencing now is the same we experienced all of last year, but it’s grown in size, and it encompasses a lot of communities,” Wilmette Police Chief Brian King said.
The most recent of the violent incidents were two car hijackings in south Evanston, which took place hours apart last Thursday and Friday, according to Evanston police. In each case, suspects forced a woman to give up her car at gunpoint. Police later saw both cars following each other and gave chase. One car crashed and the occupant fled, leaving behind a loaded revolver recovered by police, while officers discovered the second car abandoned on the far north side of Chicago.
Earlier this month, King warned that previously-identified burglary crews “have morphed into committing street robberies and carjackings … Offenders in our auto thefts and auto burglaries are suspects in violent crimes, including armed robberies, street robberies and carjackings.”
A Wilmette resident pulling into her driveway on the night of Aug. 15 was accosted by two men, who reportedly pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot if she didn’t hand over her purse and the keys to her vehicle. The men ran when their intended victim screamed for help, King said.
Earlier that night, a suspect whose description matched that of one of the Wilmette offenders robbed a man at gunpoint in Skokie and took his mobile phone, according to Skokie Officer Eric Swaback.
King said his department tracked 121 burglaries to unlocked vehicles in 2015, and 54 so far this year, many of them in neighborhoods near the Linden L station and others in neighborhoods off the Edens Expressway. Those could have been prevented had vehicle owners simply locked their cars and not left their keys or key fobs in the vehicle, he said.
King said his department recorded 17 stolen cars between the beginning of this year and Aug. 21. He said all of the cars were recovered, and 14 of the cases have been cleared with the arrests of 11 people.
“Many of the offenders are juveniles, some are young adults, and all have prior contacts with the criminal justice system,” he said.
Winnetka Police Chief Patrick Kreis said Monday that his officers spread out across Winnetka the previous week to restaurants, coffee shops and the Metra train station, handing out reminders to residents to lock their cars and homes.
“Right now, we’ve got some pretty dangerous offenders that are regularly coming back to our community because of this temptation of finding an unlocked car. We can’t arrest our way out of this problem,” Kreis said. “So if residents do those four things – lock their car, take their valuables in, lock their garage, and lock their homes, they can virtually stop this.”
King and Kreis said Tuesday that suburban departments are cooperating with each other and with Chicago in an effort to handle the rash of auto-related crimes.
King also said many of those arrested have prior criminal arrests, and some have known or suspected gang affiliations.
“I would be reluctant to name specific groups, as (the incidents) do not appear to be an organized activity,” he said.
Glenview and Northfield police issued similar warnings to village residents earlier this month, warning that incidents of auto burglary and theft had taken place in Glenview and Northfield in recent weeks, adding to those logged in Northbrook, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, Skokie, Wilmette and Evanston.
Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington last week estimated between 75 and 100 cars have been stolen in the last several months throughout suburban Chicago. Evanston recorded 27 vehicle thefts between April and August of this year, but only one involved a vehicle that was forced open, Evanston Police Cmdr. Joseph Dugan said.
Dugan and Eddington said the vast majority of car thefts in the city stem from young men, usually from Chicago, getting into unlocked vehicles and finding the keys inside.Dugan said Tuesday that investigators made those judgments based on interviews with arrestees, and with suspects who weren’t charged, as well as with the location of cars they recovered.
Communities farther north are seeing similar patterns. Glencoe’s public safety department warned village residents on Aug. 18 that the department has seen an increasing number of auto thefts and burglaries during overnight hours in recent weeks.
Public Safety Deputy Chief Richard Bookie told Glencoe village board members Aug. 18 that eight of the 11 automobiles stolen since 2014 involved residents leaving keys in the car.
“This is a demonstrable example of what is going on and why we are sometimes concerned that maybe our community feels too comfortable,” he said.
Eddington agreed, saying “It’s a misguided level of comfort we need to change.”
He and Kreis also pointed out another danger stemming from the rash of automobile thefts: thieves who are often young, unlicensed, and unskilled drivers, getting behind the wheel and driving at unsafe speeds.
“My point of view is we need to prevent young men getting into powerful automobiles and stealing them easily,” Eddington said.
“It’s exhilarating for them to drive an expensive luxury car very fast. That’s dangerous to everyone involved,” Kreis said.
Pioneer Press reporters Alex Kukulka and Bob Seidenberg and freelance reporter Dan Dorfman contributed to this story.