Chicago and other cities are grappling with a sharp increase in car hijackings. Sun-Times reporter Frank Main asked a car thief about the types of cars being targeted, why people commit these crimes, and his advice on how not to become a victim. The West Side man, who is in his 30s and has been convicted of auto theft, spoke on condition of anonymity. This interview has been edited for more space and clarity.
Q. Why do you think there has been an increase in auto hijackings in Chicago?
A. Mainly, most [because people are stealing cars to use in] drive-bys or car rides, number 1 being drive-bys – whether they want to do drive-by shootings or they want to kidnap, hold someone for ransom or just do simple thefts .
[He says young carjackers like to joyride and do drive-by shootings in stolen high-end Jeep Cherokees models like SRTs and Trackhawks, Dodge Challengers and Chargers with super-charged Hellcat engines, and Porsches and Mercedes-Benzes. He says the nickname in the carjacking world for those types of vehicles is ‘The fast s—t.’ But, the man also notes that carjackers are increasingly stealing vehicles for their parts, like catalytic converters and their motors, which they sell on the black market.]
Q. Why would you want a Charger for a drive-by shootout when someone could say “There is an orange car with a black stripe on it” and identify that car in the shootout? I think you’d like to steal a Camry or a less flashy car?
A. In people’s minds, they might take a “shiny” one because if it’s in the news or anywhere on social media, they can brag and say it was them or that was someone from their clique.
Q. I drive a 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Should I be concerned? Do I have to have my head on a pivot? Or does it depend on the model I have?
A. Well if it’s not an SRT or it isn’t see Like an SRT, they don’t want that Jeep.
Q. So now I feel more secure [laughs]. Okay, so a really high end Jeep?
A. Yes, Trackhawks, SRTs. Hemis, they don’t even care about this anymore.
Q. How do they drive in these cars?
A. [He describes how gang members drive into enemy territories in stolen high-end vehicles with tinted windows and at the last second roll down the windows and fire at their rivals, who aren’t sure whether the people in the car are friend or foe.]
Some may decide to go through a rival neighborhood, a rival gang, you know, [in a high-end car] with tinted windows. There’s something where they swerve in the middle of the street. They call it “jackball”. They swerve down the street, slowly, pop the music, and they’ll make people – the rival gang – know that this is one of them, until the window goes down and now they’ve taken them. off guard and left the shots disabled. It is therefore a drive-by.
Q. If I am a gang member in a certain part of town and see a [Trackhawk] coming down the street, like a brand new, beautiful Jeep, I mean, am I not at this point in my life going to be aware that there might be a bad guy going to shoot me?
A. It is the thing. It might be. And it couldn’t be. They take the risk of “killing our people or are we waiting?”
Q. Do people in this game have any remorse for scaring the people they stole or even [shot]? Do the people who do this stuff have heart?
A. I would say they do, but when they commit to taking action, I don’t think it’s in their mind. It is a stir or a point that they are trying to make or prove. Afterwards, they can [be] remorseful.
Q. How much of that stems from video games like Grand Theft Auto or social media bragging?
A. [It doesn’t]. They’re basically trying to keep pace with society when it comes to the rappers, artists, and big-time drug dealers in the neighborhood.
Q. What is the difference between young men and older men your age who engage in carjacking?
A. Younger guys are trying to make a profit for someone else. Or they’ll get the chance to do drive-thru shootings themselves, and then for some weird reason they’ll still be driving this car.
Q. To your knowledge, is this generally a random crime? Or is there a lot of planning going into that?
A. Mostly a random crime.
Q. Is there someone that everyone knows in a particular neighborhood that you can sell? [stolen car parts to]?
A. Through social media, you will know where people want car parts. People know that is where the cars should be taken.
Q. Are they as private [social media] networks where people can go on and talk without being afraid that the cops will read everything?
A. Ironically, no, it’s just wide open.
Q. Because there are so many things [on the Internet] that you can’t keep up with everything? This is how it works ?
A. Yes, because it won’t be obvious when someone says, “Oh, bring your stolen parts”. They’ll just say, ‘My shop accepts [catalytic converters]. ‘ But a person who steals cars knows what’s going on. They’ll go there because they know that’s what they really mean – they want one of those stolen converters or an engine or parts of that car.
Q. Police say car hackers have connections with locksmiths to clone [key] gussets. Is this a common thing?
A. You don’t need a locksmith these days. On the dark web, you can buy your own keychain and your own computer keychain. You can go under the seat at LoJack [a stolen vehicle recovery system], plug into the system either by chip or by USB insertion and the computer will automatically hack their system, disengage the LoJack and change the entire system into the brand new keychain you got on the dark web. Therefore, the LoJack is now complete and this car’s system is now switched to the new key fob.
Q. Do older men use children to help them avoid the heat? I was doing a separate story on juvenile court. And I was amazed that almost all the kids in court were there for a carjacking case. . . And I just wonder if these kids are the ones behind the wheel because adults know they won’t [charged with] a case of hijacking?
A. Those who are around that age in the juvenile ranks, yes, that’s true.
Q. I did a little research to find out where this is happening. A large concentration of carjackings can be found on the West Side. I think I think a lot of people would say it’s Michigan Avenue or some wealthy suburb. What’s your explanation?
A. It’s a little new to me – [but I’m] not saying it doesn’t happen on the West Side. I thought about it most [is in] River North to Uptown. Bucktown, Gold Coast, River North, that’s where [carjackers] like to play. But maybe it’s now the West Side because I guess the North Side is burnt – [the police] are on this side of town. The West Side has always been known fundamentally [to] have the most money – they are in poverty, but when it comes to drug money. I can imagine rival gang members stealing from guys in the hood for their cars.
Q. What is your impression of [Cook County State’s Attorney] Kim Foxx what if [prosecutors] are lenient or tough on this crime?
A. They don’t play on carjackings. They are not indulgent towards this crime.
Q. So it seems to me that you are saying that you do not think that this giant increase in car hijackings is related [with] prosecutors or the police are lenient on auto thieves; or the criminal justice system is lenient on those who commit these crimes. Is it correct?
Q. Can you give people any advice on how not to get hacked?
A. I mean, everyone has the right to spend their money wisely and buy whatever they want. It is a free country. No one should put someone at gunpoint, taking what they’ve earned and worked hard for. But in a growing epidemic of carjacking, people shouldn’t be buying these cars. It’s like driving around with drugs, holding them in the window, right in front of the police. You ask the police to stop you. You ask them to take you on a high speed chase. Look for trouble. So these cars – the Hellcats, the Trackhawks, your SRTs – why buy them if you know what the growing epidemic is right now?
Q. But people who read this will say, “Look, here’s a guy accusing the victim of the crime. [or the car companies]. ‘
A. Well, don’t be a target. I don’t blame the victim for the crime. I’m just saying, for now, don’t be a victim. Hey, stay away from known areas. And don’t drive these cars in known areas where you know people are hijacking.