By Bob Seidenberg
Evanston police have made an arrest in one of the carjacking incidents which have been part of a recent crime surge in southeast Evanston, officials announced at a special Third Ward meeting Oct. 19.
Third Ward Council member Melissa Wynne called the meeting after a recent increase in crime in the southeast ward. Six robberies were reported in the ward between Sept. 1 and Oct. 18; two of the robberies were carjackings and one was an attempted carjacking.
Police arrested an 18-year-old man at Lee Street and Sheridan Road on Oct. 19, Detective Tom Giese, the Department’s Intelligence Officer, said at the meeting.
The man, an Evanston resident, has been charged with robbery in an attempted carjacking and police are looking to see if there is any connection with the earlier incidents, Giese said at the meeting.
More than 130 people logged into the meeting, which was held virtually, to hear an update about the recent crime in the area.
One of those joining was a victim in one of the carjackings.
The incident took place while he was sitting in his car on a Sunday afternoon in his driveway “with my 9-year-old right near the car, so you know, I think it has to be sort of a wake-up call for us,” he said.
Police reported that there have been 42 criminal incidents in the area between Sept. 1 and Oct. 18.
While the majority of incidents were thefts, there were also the two carjackings and one attempted carjacking during that period, as well as three strong-arm robberies where force was used against the victims.
The area has also seen nine thefts of catalytic converters during that period.
In the carjacking attempt, at 3:45 p.m. Sept. 28, the victim, a 64-year-old man, was sitting in his car on the 500 block of Sheridan when an unknown man, approximately 40 years of age, approached the vehicle, Giese said.
The man threatened the victim with a gun and attempted to take his car keys, he said.
The victim wouldn’t comply and the man then fled, Giese said in his report.
The two successful carjackings took place Oct. 10 and 11, he said.
In the Oct. 10 incident, the victim, a 50-year-old man, was also sitting in his car, in the 500 block of Judson Avenue at 12:54 p.m. when he was approached by a man, somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, police said.
The suspect implied he had a gun and demanded the victim’s vehicle, Giese said.
The suspect then fled in the man’s vehicle, a silver 2018 Volvo, which was later recovered in the 8200 block of S. Justine St. in Chicago, where it had been involved in a crash, he said.
In the third incident, the victim, a 74-year-old woman, was sitting in her car on the 400 block of Main Street around 11:13 a.m. Oct. 11 when an unknown man, approximately 20 years of age, approached the vehicle.
He demanded her keys, money and vehicle, and the victim complied, Giese said.
The vehicle is still listed as missing, he said.
An area issue
Giese noted that carjackings in general have shot up dramatically within the Chicago area over the last year or so.
“Unfortunately, there’s really no rhyme or reason or a pattern,” he said. “A lot of the incidents are crimes of opportunity, where it’s a group of people that are just driving around looking for a suitable victim.”
It might be used just as a “joyride,” until the perpetrators become bored with it and dump it and take off, he said. Or, “They’ll use that car in a specific crime and kind of pass it along to their friends to be used.”
The Oct. 10 incident, in which the victim’s car was abandoned after a crash, “indicates to us that it most likely was somebody that came up from the City of Chicago into the City of Evanston to conduct a carjacking, which is not uncommon,” he told the large audience online. “We have the L which gets off right there and it’s [the location] also in close proximity to Lake Shore Drive.”
In the Oct.19 case that led to an arrest, police said the victims were approached by an unknown individual in the area of Lee Street and Michigan Avenue at approximately 1:40 a.m.
The suspect implied he had a weapon and attempted to take the victims’ car keys. The victims did not comply and the suspect ran away, Giese said.
About 15 minutes later an officer in the area of 1245 Judson Ave. heard a victim yelling for help, he said. “He ran over to the victim and located the offender, was able to take him into custody,” Giese said.
The suspect was also identified by the previous victims as the person who tried to rob them, he said.
Detectives are working to see if they can tie the suspect to prior incidents, Giese said.
At the virtual meeting, the Oct. 10 carjacking victim who spoke up said, “This is not a nighttime thing, this is not a catalytic converter thing.”
Rather, he said, it’s an “opportunity” crime, “so these people are coming at all hours, so there’s no pattern there – but typically it is when you’re alone in the car, and you are sitting with the car idling, and they recognize that as a quick hit, and I just, I think it’s worth spending a minute or two just saying what can we do to avoid this happening to the rest of us.”
The victim said anti-theft technology, which allows an owner to track a vehicle, may be worthwhile. He also recommended that if someone has a vehicle operated by a key fob they should keep it in their pocket and not put it on the dashboard.
Lock it up
Detective Giese and Marianne Ring, the Department’s crime analyst, also spoke about recent car thefts and burglaries in the area.
The three vehicles stolen in the Third Ward were unsecured and the keys may have been left inside, they said. In the six garage burglaries which took place, the structures were also unsecured, they said.
“The common theme for the burglaries is unsecured,” Giese said.
In the case of car thefts, he said, “it obviously is not uncommon for somebody to literally walk down the street in the overnight hours and as they walk past every car they just pull on the door handle to see which car is unlocked.
If the car is unlocked, the offender will just reach in and take change or anything of value, he said, “and then they’ll just move on to the next car.”
Council member Wynne asked about police deterrence tactics: “When our police officers are patrolling at night, do they come across people walking down the street, trying car doors?”
Giese said patrol officers do “a very good job of mixing it up as far as different strategies,” passing along the information when they suspect a crime trend.
“And our patrol commanders and sergeants will deploy patrol resources available to hit those areas that are being being targeted,” he said. “ Oftentimes they’ll come across somebody walking along the row of cars in the street, and they’ll conduct a stop, identify them.”
“If they’re not able to actually catch them in the act of it, there might be a challenge as far as what enforcement action can be taken,” he said. “If they’re contacted almost in the act by the officer it’s usually enough to scare them away.”
Over in minutes I
There have been nine thefts of catalytic converters in the Third Ward since Sept. 1 and 41 throughout Evanston during the same time period, Giese said.
“Almost all the vehicles have been Toyotas and Hondas,” Ring pointed out, “and the biggest thing is that this is super opportunistic – it’s very difficult to do crime prevention for it, because it takes the offenders less than two minutes to identify a vehicle, and saw off the catalytic converter and get out.”
In southeast Evanston, located next to Chicago, “the ease of getting in and out of Evanston might make you guys more of a target for this sort of crime,” she said, addressing the residents, “but it’s happening throughout the city.”
Council member Wynne observed that it can cost up to $2,000 to replace the part. “I know some of you had to,” she said, “and it’s very, very frustrating to many people, because it’s very expensive.”
Some countermeasures are being used to prevent the thefts, Giese said.
“One thing you can do – the silliest and easiest thing to do – is mark up your catalytic converter in some way shape or form to make it where a scrapyard won’t want to take it, or another mechanic shop won’t want to take it,” he said. “Some people add their VIN [vehicle identification number] to their catalytic converter, some people spray-paint it, something along those lines,” he said. “There’s also aftermarket catalytic converter guards you can buy, where you take it to a mechanic and they install it and it covers up your catalytic converter.”
Some people attach warning alarms to the part, Giese said.
Officers have pulled up to scenes with catalytic converter thefts in progress “but unfortunately they stop and offenders hop in a car and take off,” he said.
Some of the city’s neighboring agencies have been successful in making an arrest, Giese said, “but unfortunately there’s so many different groups that have been doing this, it really hasn’t slowed it down. So that’s kind of the challenge we’re at with that.”