Tom Weitzel

Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel on Jan. 29 called for a “wide-ranging task force,” ideally led by Chicago police and the FBI but including law enforcement leaders from across the region, to combat violent carjackings that have plagued Chicago and its suburbs for the past year.

While Riverside, Brookfield and North Riverside have not experienced incidents on par with nearby Oak Park and Forest Park, they aren’t unknown. In 2020, there were a pair of carjacking incidents in Riverside, one where the victim was a food delivery driver and the other a woman pumping gas at a Harlem Avenue gas station.

“We’ve seen a disturbing number of carjackings the past few months in the area surrounding Riverside,” said Weitzel in a press release. “I’m grateful for Chicago Police Department’s internal collaboration within CPD, but the crime pattern needs a full regional approach.”

In a phone interview, Weitzel said even if it was a temporary task force lasting 90 to 120 days, such a group could share intelligence on where carjackings were taking place and where vehicles were being recovered.

“Some agencies won’t be able to participate due to manpower, but at least offer it and see if there’s some kind of pattern we can interrupt.”

Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel

 Chicago police have reported that carjacking incidents in 2020 skyrocketed 135 percent year over year, and they reported more than 160 carjackings through the first three weeks of January.

On Jan. 29, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot convened a meeting of regional mayors and police chiefs to address the issue, though Weitzel said he was not notified of the meeting, which was closed to the press and public.

Chicago police have formed their own internal task force, but Weitzel said he’d like to see Chicago partner with suburban departments, the FBI, ATF, Cook County Sheriff’s Police, the Cook County State’s Attorney and federal prosecutors for a more comprehensive approach.

It’s difficult for police to prevent carjackings, since they take place at all hours and places. Offenders typically try to identify vulnerable victims while driving in vehicles themselves. 

Once a vehicle is hijacked, the offenders often ditch the vehicle they arrived in – also typically stolen — and speed off in the newly stolen vehicle. Offenders tend to be teenagers, and incidents unfold in just moments.

 In his press release on Jan. 29, Weitzel also included several strategies for people to use to avoid becoming carjacking victims:

  • Avoid being alone in your vehicle in isolated areas and have your mobile phone handy and charged.
  • Be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to people who appear to be lurking or of cars suspiciously following you into driveways. Call 911 or use your key fob or car alarm if you feel threatened.
  • Be aware of how carjackers lure victims. These include bumping your car, pretending to be a stranded motorist or flashing their headlights. Drive to the nearest police station or fire station if you feel threatened.
  • Park in well-lit areas and, if possible, find a security guard to escort you to your vehicle.
  • Don’t sit in your car with the doors unlocked or windows rolled down.
  • Don’t stop at isolated ATMs.

“I don’t want our residents to think that this is just a Chicago problem, because it’s not,” Weitzel said.