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INDIANAPOLIS — Since the start of this 2021, there has been an increase in reported carjackings across the Circle City, a trend also experienced by several other cities across the nation.

From Jan. 1 through Dec. 7, IMPD said there have been 234 carjacking incidents logged. That represents a 51% increase compared to the same time period in 2020.

One of those incidents recently involved the alleged carjacking of a rideshare driver at gunpoint at a gas station on Indianapolis’ east side on Dec. 1.

According to a police report filed with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, the driver told police his passengers asked him to stop at a gas station, then one of them pulled out a handgun and ordered the victim to get out of the car.

The report also alleged a female passenger got into the driver seat and a male passenger fired a shot through the rear driver’s-side window. No injuries were reported and police confirmed the victim’s vehicle was recovered, however, no arrests have been made in the incident.

In that case, the people allegedly responsible were already in the vehicle when the crime occurred, but as the the colder weather arrives, many people tend to leave their vehicles unattended and running, which creates an easy target for thieves, police said.

“With the wintertime, I think people just become more comfortable with ensuring their vehicles are warm and that creates this opportunity for thieves to come and steal their possessions or for carjacking suspects to come and take what doesn’t belong to them,” said IMPD Public Information Officer Samone Burris.

IMPD is encouraging the community to be hyper-vigilant and take steps to protect themselves this holiday season.

“We always encourage the community to lock their doors and not leave their cars running. We also like to inform people that theft of a vehicle is a crime of opportunity, so you have to take extra precautions to make sure you’re protecting what’s important and valuable to you,” Burris said.

One of those steps to take is by not leaving your vehicle unattended, IMPD said.

“If you have to sit in your car and you would like to warm your car up, absolutely fine. Protect yourself. Keep your head up, be aware. Lock yourself in your car. These are things and measures and steps that you take to prevent yourself from experiencing a carjacking and these are steps you take to prevent your car being stolen while it’s unoccupied,” said Burris.

IMPD wants to also remind Hoosiers that carjackings are not victimless crimes and even if a weapon isn’t involved, often times, they can still be violent.

“Whatever personal possessions they may have in their vehicle, that stuff belongs to an individual. It’s not a suspect’s to take,” said Burris. “Whether an individual may be looking for a monetary compensation for stealing something or whether they are looking for just the act or the moment of the thrill that they may achieve from that, you are harming somebody. You are taking something from somebody that doesn’t belong to you to start with.”

“When individuals come in that crime of opportunity moment and they take a vehicle or steal a vehicle that is not occupied, it still belongs to somebody. As stated, that person is not able to transport their kids to school, that person’s not able to get to work, that person’s not able to take their elderly grandparents to doctors appointments,” said Burris. “The means of that vehicle in their life is now stripped from them and now taken from them.”

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) also recently issued an alert as the holiday season approached, warning the public to remain alert during the holiday season when it comes to protecting their vehicles and belongings inside.

“The nation is witnessing historically high auto theft, violent crime and carjackings,” read a report by the NICB. “Unlike auto theft, a carjacking involves violent confrontation with an offender who threatens the victim with bodily injury with a weapon or through physical force.”

Credit: National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB)

Both the NICB and IMPD point out that it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to protect yourself because a vehicle theft or carjacking can happen in the blink of an eye.

“It takes just a moment for you to look down at your phone and be so consumed into your phone that somebody reaches and pulls your car door open and takes your vehicle. It only takes a moment,” said Burris.

Tips to protect yourself

IMPD shared several other tips to protect yourself during the cold weather months from vehicle thefts and carjackings:

  • Don’t leave your car unlocked when warming it up at home or at work
  • Don’t leave your car unlocked at the gas pumps or when running into a convenience store/gas station
  • Park in well-lit areas
  • Pay attention when you are sitting in your car waiting for someone
  • Lock your car when driving
  • Be Hyper-aware of your surroundings when walking to your car, when getting out of your car or when stopped at intersections
  • Avoid driving alone at night when possible

“There are a number of things you can do to prevent these things from happening, you just have to put the steps into motion,” said Burris.

IMPD also reminds that if you ever find yourself in a situation where you may encounter a carjacker, the best thing you can do is comply.

Efforts to combat carjackings across Marion County

This summer, IMPD announced the creation of a task force in response to an increase in reported carjackings across Marion County in 2021 compared to 2020.

The task force consists of IMPD Robbery Branch detectives, FBI Violent Crimes Task Force officers and Special Agents with the FBI.

Part of the advantage of the task force is the ability to present some of the cases investigated to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where if convicted, a person could face much harsher penalties, including a federal prison sentence with the potential to be much lengthier than if convicted on state-level charges.

According to IMPD, suspects arrested for robbery as a result of carjacking could have their case presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review. As a result, a person could be charged for being in violation of federal law under Title 18 of the United States Code 2119.

Although this task force is newer, it’s not the first time that IMPD and the FBI have teamed up to address carjackings in Indianapolis.

Back in March, IMPD detectives and the FBI arrested three juveniles suspected of committing a series of armed robberies and carjackings on the city’s west side. Police said the suspects were believed to be responsible for at least eight cases involving armed robberies of food and delivery drivers, with many of the crimes occurring near the Astoria Park Apartments on the city’s west side.

IMPD also announced the arrest of five total juveniles in separate armed robbery and carjacking cases just one month prior, in February 2021. The arrests in this case were credited to being the result of a collaborative effort between IMPD Southeast District middle shift officers, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, IMPD SWAT officers, and both IMPD K-9 officers and Southport officers.

By October, the task force had already cleared more than two dozen cases by arrests, including auto thefts, business robberies, street robberies, home invasions and burglaries.