Carjackings climb during COVID: But cars are recovered
By Heather Wright
On May 6, the Bowie police found a red Alfa Romeo Giulia parked along the 16000 block of Governor Bridge Road in Bowie, according to the Hyattsville City Police Department. Area police had been on the lookout for the hard-to-miss car; it was the second of two vehicles carjacked in Hyattsville on Feb. 15 by the same suspects.
The first Feb. 15 carjacking took place at 1:30 p.m on the 4800 block of Rhode Island Avenue, when armed suspects took a silver Chevrolet Suburban, according to police. While police pursued, the Chevrolet crashed into another car at the intersection of 40th Avenue and Jefferson Street. The driver and passenger fled on foot.
About 3:30 p.m., the same suspects carjacked the Alfa Romeo in the 4500 block of Garfield Drive, according to police. Victims were not injured in either incident.
The Alfa Romeo recovered May 6 was the only vehicle still missing of those stolen in a surge of carjackings that have taken place in the city of Hyattsville in 2020 and 2021. When a vehicle is stolen in the presence of the victim, which usually involves force or the threat of force, police categorize it as a carjacking (vs. a stolen vehicle). Carjackings in the city have increased 400% during the pandemic, from three incidents in 2018-19, to 15, so far, in 2020-21.
Although overall crime in Hyattsville was down in 2020, carjacking and stolen vehicle reports increased, and are continuing to frustrate city residents and the police department in 2021.
A February The Washington Post article describes increased carjackings as a nationwide problem during the pandemic. Acting Hyattsville Police Chief Scott Dunklee agreed in a May 3 interview, “We really are just part of the larger community, the DMV, and then the country. It seems to be a nationwide trend.”
The most recent carjacking incident, the sixth of 2021, occurred on April 28 in the parking lot of the Mall at Prince George’s along the 3500 block of the East-West Highway. According to a police press release, one of the suspects pointed a gun at the victim, demanding the 2020 Toyota Camry and the victim’s cell phone. The two adult male suspects then fled toward Belcrest Road in the victim’s car. The victim was not injured.
According to Dunklee, there did not seem to be trends in timing, location or type of car involved in the carjackings. “It seems pretty random,” he commented. “I don’t think these things are really planned out. If they were, I don’t think we’d be recovering the cars.”
Dunklee said that the fact that most carjacked vehicles are recovered also indicates that they’re not being taken for resale. “My guess is to get from point A to B and maybe for the thrill of it, too, if you consider that thrilling, to take someone’s car away from them and drive off.”
Dunklee emphasizes that carjacking victims should not attempt to fight or resist carjackers: “It’s not worth risking your safety or your family’s safety by fighting over your car.”
According to the city police department’s 2020 annual report, 2020 generally saw lower crime rates in Hyattsville. Overall crime was down about 25.5% from 2019 (from 1288 incidents in 2019 to 960 in 2020). Theft was down 33.5% (from 996 in 2019 to 662 in 2020), and theft from autos was down 7.6% (from 317 in 2019 to 293 in 2020).
However, stolen vehicle reports increased 11.5%, from 61 in 2019 to 68 in 2020. This trend has continued and worsened at the beginning of 2021. The first quarter of 2021 report indicated a 94.4% increase in stolen vehicles compared to the same time period during 2020 (from 18 incidents in 2020 to 35 in 2021).
Police records indicate that 30 stolen vehicles were recovered in 2020. As of May 6, 40 vehicles have been stolen in Hyattsville in 2021, and 12 stolen vehicles recovered.
Dunklee noted that while some of the stolen vehicle incidents seemed opportunistic — someone would happen upon an empty car running, jump in and drive off — other instances involved some planning: someone at a gas station purposely waiting for a driver to exit the car leaving the keys inside, for instance.
To deter thieves, lock your valuables in the trunk, lock your car and take your keys, even if you’re just leaving your car for a short time, said Dunklee. Park your car in a well-lit area and keep aware of your surroundings. If you have a doorbell camera and park your car outside your residence, the video evidence may be helpful to the police in case of car-related theft or vandalism.