Amidst skyrocketing car-jackings in Washington, D.C., city officials have announced efforts to crack down on car thefts.
The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) arrested a group of five teens, age 13 to 16, Aug. 30 in connection with an Aug. 28 carjacking, as well as a a 16-year-old male from Southeast Washington on Aug. 27 who was a part of a group that carried out carjackings and robberies on Aug. 23 and 24. The 16-year-old faces charges of armed robbery, kidnapping and carjacking while using a gun, and detectives continue to search for the young man’s co-conspirators.
MPD also arrested a 12-year-old boy Aug. 20 in connection with a car-jacking in the Anacostia neighborhood of Southeast Washington. The boy held a gun in his possession at the time of his arrest, but failed at the carjacking when the victim refused to surrender the keys.
These incidents fall within a broader trend of increased car-jackings in D.C. District residents reported 140 incidents of car-jacking in 2018 compared to 485 in 2022. Residents have reported 651 incidents so far in 2023.
Car theft has simultaneously increased, with 2,205 vehicles reported stolen in 2022. This year, 4,716 vehicles have already been reported stolen in the District. The majority of cars are stolen by teenagers. Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for D.C., who prosecutes carjackings, announced Aug. 29 that his office would charge some older teenage perpetrators of car thefts as adults to deter further crimes.
Many of the teenage perpetrators have been inspired by TikTok videos involving the theft of Kia and Hyundai cars, which have a security flaw that makes theft possible with just a USB cord and a screwdriver. The flaw has led to a settlement that could be valued at as much as $200 million and provide relief to owners of 2011 to 2022 model year Kia and Hyundai vehicles.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) rolled out a program in February to distribute steering wheel locks to residents who own particular Kia and Hyundai models.
Bowser later established a “Hyundai Anti-Theft Mobile Clinic” on July 24. This multi-day clinic involved professionals installing anti-theft technology in the vehicles of D.C. residents who own Hyundai cars with faulty technology.
“It is unacceptable that criminals are targeting District residents and stealing their vehicles. In some cases, these vehicles are later used to commit acts of violent crime in our city,” Pamela A. Smith, acting chief of police at the Metropolitan Police Department, said at the July clinic.
Elizabeth Rivabem (CAS ’26) said that as a student living on Georgetown’s campus, she worries about falling victim to crime.
“As a student, I love to walk around a lot, so car robberies themselves don’t necessarily phase me, but crime in general scares me. So I wouldn’t feel safe, let’s say, walking alone at night,” Rivabem told The Hoya. “However, hearing about the high rates of car theft in D.C. is definitely a sign to be more careful as I go out and to warn my friends when they do the same.”
Rivabem worries that car-jacking and car robberies will particularly harm D.C. residents who live in socio-economically disadvantaged areas.
“Some members of the Georgetown community may be able to financially recover from having their car stolen. However, most people are just not prepared to experience these kinds of things,” Rivabem said.
“If your car is robbed and you lose your earnings for the month, how are you supposed to pay rent? How are you supposed to eat food? That makes me wonder what sort of structural issues are playing into the robberies,” she added.
The rise in D.C. carjackings comes amid a rise in carjackings in major cities during the pandemic, with the Council on Criminal Justice finding in January that vehicle thefts increased by 59% in 30 American cities between 2019 and 2022.
Rivabem’s hometown of Miami has seen 2,500 carjackings since January. Rivabem’s family car was stolen last summer there.
“Back home, people have broken the windows of my family’s car to steal valuables. So I try not to leave important items in the car,” Rivabem said. “I think it is important that people living in any big city keep these things in mind, but at some point, there’s just nothing you can do because some people who commit this type of crime are very skilled.”
D.C. officials assured citizens that they will continue to work to combat car-jackings.
“The Metropolitan Police Department will continue to take all crimes that are committed in our neighborhoods seriously,” Smith said. “We are committed to public safety. We will continue to remove violent offenders and hold them accountable for their actions.”