Amid a rise in vehicular hijackings in both Chicago and suburban Cook County, the Village of Flossmoor is doing what it can to keep its residents from becoming victims — and advising them how to be safe if they wind up in that position.
The Flossmoor Police Department led two safety information sessions on Wednesday, Feb. 10, the first of which was an in-person event at Village Hall that was limited to 25 attendees. The second took place via Zoom and allowed for write-in questions.
The presentation, led by Cmdr. Keith Taylor, focused on carjackings, but also addressed stolen vehicles. Flossmoor has remained relatively unscathed in that realm, with just 10 vehicles stolen in 2020 — all of which were unlocked, many left running, Taylor said.
“Flossmoor has not experienced any carjackings to date, which I’m very grateful for,” Taylor added. “Flossmoor remains one of the safest villages in Illinois, and it’s important we work with our residents to keep it that way.”
Chicago police have reported 218 carjackings in January alone, and threats have increased in the south suburbs, which has left many residents concerned. It is an uptick Taylor said police have seen since the onset of COVID-19, likely because of places shut down, people losing jobs, folks home more and juveniles out of in-person school.
Part of what has worried police about recent carjackings is that they are taking place at all times of the day. While offenders tend to prefer working in the dark, sometimes these carjackings have been happening in broad daylight or well-lit locations.
“These are crimes of opportunity,” Deputy Chief Clint Wagner said.
Police cautioned that whenever a driver slows down or stops, they are particularly vulnerable to carjackings. When parked and distracted by something such as a cellphone, that risk increases, they said. Residential driveways, parking lots and public garages, gas stations, ATMs, and intersections with stop lights have all been targets for carjackings, police said.
“Honestly, anyone could be vulnerable,” Taylor said.
Police cautioned people to always be aware of their surroundings, including looking for people inside suspicious vehicles or loitering in the area. People should be particularly cautious at night and try to park in well-lit areas whenever possible, police said. People should be particularly aware of their surroundings when in garages, parking lots and gas stations.
“One of the best things we can do is defend against having a false sense of security,” Taylor said.
Police said drivers should make a habit of entering their car and immediately locking their doors, then start driving. They should also avoid getting “boxed in” when in traffic, leaving room to maneuver. Keeping a cellphone in one’s pocket lets motorists make calls if they lose their vehicles.
Two common scenarios for carjackings lately have been “bump and runs” as well as the “stranded motorist,” police said. In the former, someone strikes a vehicle from behind, and when the owner is checking the damage someone jumps into the driver’s seat and leaves with the vehicle. In the latter, stranded strangers get vehicles to stop, and then someone gets in the victim’s car and leaves the scene.
“If you are the victim of a crash, one of the things you can do — you don’t necessarily have to get out of the car,” Taylor said. “If you’re suspicious of what’s going on, you can get on the phone with the police.”
Taylor said once that call is made, police can get to someone in a “matter of minutes.” He said people can also drive to the nearest police station to assess damage and exchange information. He suggested never stopping for stranded motorists but instead calling 911. He said to provide a description of the motorist and location.
In the event that people end up the victim of a carjacking, police say to give up the car and leave the scene. People should avoid verbal or physical confrontations, and always leave in a direction other than where the vehicle is likely to travel.
“The vehicle can be replaced,” Taylor said. “You are irreplaceable.”
Several parents asked in the Q&A what to do if a child is in the vehicle. Wagner said if they are “adult-sized” children or otherwise capable of acting on their own, parents should have conversations with them in advance about what to do in the event of a carjacking. When it comes to younger children, Wagner said parents need to do everything they can to get the youths out of the vehicle with them. If that is not possible, plead with the offender to just take the vehicle and let the child go.
Police also said to inform 911 immediately if a child is in a vehicle that was taken. But they cautioned against lying about a detail like that, as some have done in hopes of getting a better police response. Taylor said police will take carjackings seriously either way, and lying about a child could mean more trouble for the victim in the long run.
People should try to remember the offender’s description, as well as the descriptions of vehicles involved, police added. When it comes to the victim’s vehicle, any personalizing details, such as stickers or damage, can help if carjackers change the license plates. Detective Nick Kausal said people also should have basic details such as their vehicle’s make, model, color and license plate on hand when talking to police.
“Things that we can get out as quickly as possible, so we can put this car in as stolen,” he said. “The more leads I’m given, the more we can follow up on.”
Kausal noted Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler models such as Cherokees, Challengers and 300s have been “high targets” for carjackings. While many newer models have key fobs, police have seen people drive for weeks by simply keeping the vehicles filled with gas.
“A vehicle will run and remain running even without the key fob, as long as it was started with the key fob,” he said.
A resident also asked in the Q&A how people can help seniors avoid becoming victims of carjackings.
“The best way is to inform them and be their eyes and ears,” Wagner said. “Everyone has to become more aware of their surroundings.”
As far as vehicle thefts go, police recommend never leaving a vehicle running unattended, even when nearby. Many thefts occur in residential areas, sometimes from driveways, they said. Vehicles should be locked, with windows closed, and the keys should never be left inside of them.
People who have the means to do so should install anti-theft systems in their vehicle, preferably with visible and/or audible alarms, which can be deterrents to would-be carjackers. Ignition cut-offs and signal systems that can be tracked by police also are available.
Flossmoor also had 40 reported vehicle burglaries in 2020, with the vehicles left unlocked in all instances, according to police. The main advice police gave residents regarding theft was to make sure doors are always locked and valuables are removed from the vehicle. That includes electronics, credit and debit cards, wallets, GPS units, and cellphones.
“Don’t leave those things in your car, even if you’re going to run into a store for a quick second,” Taylor said.
Police said if items cannot be removed, people should utilize the trunk for them or cover them with objects such as blankets. Hiding them in the glove box or center console is not a good idea, according to police.
Two representatives from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office also participated in the session, outlining how bonds, the court process and penalties work for various carjacking scenarios, for both adult and juvenile suspects. Assistant State’s Attorney Kathryn Morrissey said the office is working with city and local officials, as well as local and federal police partners, to deal with the issue.
“There has been, undoubtedly, an explosion of carjackings in our county,” Morrissey said. “It’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
Police Chief Tod Kamleiter added, “Together, we can take this serious problem and make a difference. That’s our goal is to make everyone safe.”
Kausal said police are working more with the Neighbors App by Ring to use doorbell cameras and things of that nature to help with these types of cases. Kamleiter added he is hoping to offer this presentation to the driver’s education program at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. He also said police are hoping to make these safety information sessions a quarterly event.
Wagner added “our doors are always open.” Residents do not need to wait for an event if they have questions about their safety. He added police are trying to up their presence as a deterrent.
“We’ve stepped up patrol in all of our areas that are residential and commercial,” he said. “We’re just trying to do the best we can by being out and about — out there for our residents.”