Saved From A Carjacking

"I want to thank you for saving my car and most of all . . . my life! Six days ago, I went to a local mall to get a birthday gift for my nephew who was having a party at a pizza place nearby. When I came out of the mall I felt someone following me and that made me nervous. I did not want to turn around and confront them because I was hoping that it was just someone going to the parking lot to get in their car like I was. I don't know why I did what I did but I had a bad feeling and I reached into my purse and pushed the button on the key chain that separates the Ravelco plug from my keys. As I was getting in my car a great big man who had what looked like a pipe in his hand pushed me across the front seat, got behind the wheel and told me to give him my keys. I handed him my keys without the Ravelco plug attached and he immediately tried to start the car. Of course without the Ravelco plug it would not start but he kept trying. He yelled "WHAT'S WRONG?" I told him this has been happening lately. He immediately got out of my car and ran. He must have been a real idiot to think I had a dead battery because my car is a brand new white 2001 Lincoln Town Car and it still had the temporary paper tags on it. The policeman who was called to the scene said "if it wasn't for my Ravelco system I might have ended up in a ditch somewhere!" I am pretty proud of myself and wanted to share my story with you" - Bernadette E., Tucson, Arizona

CARJACKING has become one of the most prevalent crimes in many parts of the world. Most carjackings occur for the sole purpose of taking the car; it is a crime without a political agenda and does not specifically target Americans.

You can protect yourself by becoming familiar with the methods, ruses, and locations commonly used by carjackers.

     

AVOIDANCE

The first step to avoiding an attack is to stay alert at all times and be aware of your environment. The most likely places for a carjacking are:

  • High crime areas 

  • Lesser traveled roads (rural areas) 

  • Intersections where you must stop 

  • Isolated areas in parking lots 

  • Residential driveways and gates

  • Traffic jams or congested areas

Learn to avoid these areas and situations if possible. If not, take steps to prevent an attack. In traffic, look around for possible avenues of escape. Keep some distance between you and the vehicle in front so you can maneuver easily if necessary--about one-half of your vehicle’s length. (You should always be able to see the rear tires of the vehicle in front of you.) When stopped, use your rear and side view mirrors to stay aware of your surroundings. Also keep your doors locked and windows up. This increases your safety and makes it more difficult for an attacker to surprise you.

Accidents are one ruse used by attackers to control a victim.

The following are common attack plans:

The Bump—Another copycat scheme used by carjackers is to bump your car from behind to get you to pull over and stop. We have all been trained to always stop following an auto accident to exchange license and insurance information. What a perfect scenario for a carjacker. The carjacker, and his accomplice, will follow the intended victim to a suitable location with good escape routes and few witnesses. The carjacker will crash into the back of your vehicle at low speed and "bump" you with enough force to make you believe a traffic accident had just occurred. The victim gets out to assess the damage and exchange information. The victim’s vehicle is taken.

Good Samaritan—Beware of the Good Samaritan. The attacker(s) stage what appears to be an accident. They may simulate an injury. The victim stops to assist. Typically, the drivers of both vehicles pull over, stop, and get out discussing the damage. At this point the carjacker robs you of your vehicle, its’ contents, and drives away. The carjacker's car gets driven away by the accomplice. Hopefully you won't be injured during the exchange.

The Ruse—The vehicle behind the victim flashes its lights or the driver waves to get the victim’s attention. The attacker tries to indicate that there is a problem with the victim’s car. The victim pulls over and the vehicle is taken.

The Trap—Carjackers use surveillance to follow the victim home. When the victim pulls into his or her driveway waiting for the gate to open, the attacker pulls up behind and blocks the victim’s car. If you are bumped from behind or if someone tries to alert you to a problem with your vehicle, pull over only when you reach a safe public place. If you are driving into a gated community, call ahead to have the gate opened. Otherwise wait on the street until the gate is open before turning in and possibly getting trapped.

Think before stopping to assist in an accident. It may be safer to call and report the location, number of cars involved, and any injuries you observed. You can avoid becoming a victim. Ruses and methods, as well as the types of cars most often targeted, differ from country to country. Talk with the regional security officer (RSO) at your post about local scams and accident procedures. In all cases keep your cell phone or radio with you and immediately alert someone regarding your situation.

DURING A CARJACKING

      

In most carjacking situations, the attackers are interested only in the vehicle. Try to stay calm. Do not stare at the attacker as this may seem aggressive and cause them to harm you. 

        

There are two options during an attack- nonresistive, nonconfrontational behavior and resistive or confrontational behavior. Your reaction should be based on certain factors:

  • Type of attack

  • Environment (isolated or public)

  • Mental state of attacker (reasonable or nervous)

  • Number of attackers

  • Weapons

  • Whether children are present 

In the nonconfrontational situation, you would: 

  • give up the vehicle freely.

  • listen carefully to all directions.

  • make no quick or sudden movements that the attacker could construe as a counter attack.

  • always keeps your hands in plain view. Tell the attacker of every move in advance.

  • make the attacker aware if children are present. The attacker may be focused only on the driver and not know children are in the car.

In a resistive or confrontational response, you would make a decision to escape or attack the carjacker. Before doing so, consider: 

  • the mental state of the attacker. 

  • possible avenues of escape. 

  • the number of attackers; there is usually more than one. 

  • the use of weapons. (Weapons are used in the majority of carjacking situations.) 

In most instances, it is probably safest to give up your vehicle.

AFTER THE ATTACK

Safety 
Always carry a cell phone or radio on your person.

If you are in a populated area, immediately go to a safe place. After an attack or an attempted attack, you might not be focused on your safety. Get to a safe place before contacting someone to report the incident.                        

Reporting the Crime
Describe the event. What time of day did it occur? Where did it happen? How did it happen? Who was involved?
Describe the attacker(s). Without staring, try to note height, weight, scars or other marks, hair and eye color, the presence of facial hair, build (slender, large), and complexion (dark, fair). Describe the attacker’s vehicle. If possible get the vehicle license number, color, make, model, and year, as well as any marks (scratches, dents, damage) and personal decorations (stickers, colored wheels). The golden rule for descriptions is to give only that information you absolutely remember. If you are not sure, don’t guess!

CONCLUSION

Avoidance is the best way to prevent an attack. Use your judgment to evaluate the situation and possible reactions. Know safe areas to go to in an emergency. Always carry your cell phone or radio. Nonconfrontation is often the best response. The objective is not to thwart the criminal but to survive.

Carjacking Facts

Carjacking is the violent form of motor vehicle (robbery) theft. It is a serious threat to our personal safety because the thief uses force and fear to rob our car from us. Sometimes the car owner or other occupants are kidnapped during a carjacking, and if lucky will be dropped off nearby unharmed. The worst case scenario occurs when you are transported to a secondary crime scene, which is usually more dangerous than the original confrontation. Those not so lucky victims have suffered other crimes like rape, aggravated assault, and even homicide.

Carjackers have unknowingly driven off with infants still in the backseat of the car, leaving behind a screaming and emotionally distressed parent. Other drivers have been violently pulled out of their seats and left lying on the road, terrified by what just occurred. The crime of carjacking can be traumatic to our everyday lives because it creates fear in the common act of driving a car. Victims of carjacking have reported being unable to drive a car again while others required months of therapy. Others have become so hypersensitive, that embarrassing and dangerous situations have arisen in response to their fear when someone unwittingly approached their car on foot.

How Carjacking Got Started

Carjacking has always been around, especially in large metropolitan cities, we just rarely read about it. The crime of carjacking "took off" became widespread in the 1980s after the media published stories of bizarre situations and the violence associated with the crime that occured in Newark, New Jersey former car theft capitol of the United States. The media coined the phrase "carjacking" and the crime of auto theft took on a new identity. After a rush of publicity, other criminals "copied" the crime of carjacking. These copycat criminals must have said, "Hey, I can steal any vehicle I want without damaging it, I get the car keys, and I can rob the owner too. What a concept!"

Another reason carjacking got started is because of the sophistication and prevalence of new anti-theft devices and alarm systems. New car alarms and steering wheel locking systems made it tougher on the auto thief. Chip-integrated ignition switches, engine cutoff devices, and stolen vehicle locators are now more common in cars. Unfortunately for us, poorly motivated and unskilled car thieves have adapted by becoming more violent to get the cars they need and don't think twice about using force against us.

Sometimes criminals will carjack a vehicle for use in another crime like armed robbery or for a drive-by shooting. These carjackers prefer to have a set of car keys and not have a visibly smashed window or damaged ignition switch that can be easily spotted by the police. This class of car thief is the most dangerous because they are usually heavily armed and are not concerned with your welfare.

How Often Does Carjacking Occur

National carjacking statistics are not available. The biggest problem of tracking carjacking incidents is current police agency reporting practices. Most criminal codes have not adopted this new crime type nor do they track it statistically. Most police jurisdictions charge the crime of carjacking as a robbery since force or fear was used to steal the vehicle directly for the owner. Many police agencies record multiple charges like aggravated robbery, auto theft, assault, battery to one event but usually only the first charge (robbery) gets indexed and statistically tracked. Some jurisdictions charge the crime of carjacking as only an auto theft since a vehicle was stolen. Since the crime of carjacking is not indexed in the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, it is unlikely that we will soon see a national statistic on frequency that is generated from police reports. 

From other data sources such as National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)* study of 1992-1996, the NCVS learned that each year 49,000 carjackings and attempts occur in the United States. About half of the reported carjackings were failed attempts. Of the completed carjackings, 92% had weapons where only 75% were armed during the failed attempts. Unfortunately, this statistic tells us that carjackers must be armed to be taken seriously by victims. A handgun was the weapon of choice followed by a knife. Males were responsible for 97% of the carjackings and attempts and were usually carried out by either one or two perpetrators.

Where Does Carjacking Occur

Carjacking can occur anywhere, but is largely a big city problem like traditional auto theft. Carjacking occurs most often in a busy commercial area where cars are parked and when the owner is entering or exiting the parked vehicle. Most carjackings or attempts (65%) occur within five miles of the victim's home. The carjacker wants the keys readily available and the car door unlocked for a quick getaway. Carjackers tend to rob lone victims more often (92%), for obvious reasons. According to the NCVS, men were victimized more often than women, blacks more than whites; Hispanics, more than non-Hispanics; and divorced, separated, or never married more than married or widowed. This trend is not surprising given the fact that younger single males tend to take more chances and go to higher risk locations than do married persons. It is unclear whether household income or the value of the vehicle is a criterion in carjacking as the statistics are spread throughout the income levels. However the $35,000 to $50,000 income range had a slightly higher carjack victim frequency.

Surprisingly, the NCVS study indicates that 64% of the daytime carjackings were actually completed, while less than half of those at night were completed. This may be reflective of who is being victimized and who is out at night. About 62% of all carjacking victims took some form of action to defend themselves or their property. Victims were injured about 20% of the time in completed carjackings and about 16% during attempts. Although the statistics aren't clear, each year about 27 homicides are reported related to auto theft. Also interesting is that 100% of the completed carjack victims called the police, whereas only 57% called to report an attempt carjacking. This variable in reporting is probably related to the desire to get their property back and for insurance purposes.

Popular carjacking locations are parking lots, shopping centers, gas stations, car washes, convenience stores, ATMs, hotels, valet parking, fast-food drive-thru, and outside of retail stores. Close proximity to a freeway onramp is a desirable escape factor from the carjackers prospective. A risky, but popular location for the carjacker is a roadway intersection with a stoplight. A carjacker will jump out of another vehicle, pull open your unlocked drivers’ door, and force you to get out. The type of carjacking allows for a quick escape but increases their risk of being followed by other drivers armed with cell phones. There have been incidents where well-meaning citizens got into a high-speed chase following carjackers and ended up being victims themselves.

What Should You Do?

Carjacking of parked vehicles depends on the car owner being inattentive to their surroundings. Carjackers, like street robbers, prefer the element of surprise. Most victims say they never saw the carjacker until they appeared at their car door. In addition to the information above, to reduce your risk of being carjacked, I have listed some common sense steps below:

  • Don't park in isolated or visually obstructed areas near walls or heavy foliage  
  • Always park in well-lighted areas, if you plan to arrive/leave after dark
  • Use valet parking or an attended garage, if you're a woman driving alone
  • As you walk to your car be alert to suspicious persons sitting in cars
  • Ask for a security escort if you are alone at a shopping center
  • Watch out for young males loitering in the area (handing out flyers, etc)
  • If someone tries to approach, change direction or run to a busy store
  • Follow your instincts if they tell you to walk/run away to a busy place
  • As you approach your vehicle, look under, around, and inside your car
  • If safe, open the door, enter quickly, and lock the doors
  • Don't be a target by turning your back while loading packages into the car
  • Make it your habit to always start your car and drive away immediately
  • Teach and practice with your children to enter and exit the car quickly
  • In the city, always drive with your car doors locked and windows rolled up
  • When stopped in traffic, leave room ahead to maneuver and escape, if necessary
  • If you are bumped in traffic, by young males, be suspicious of the accident
  • Beware of the Good Samaritan who offers to repair your car or a flat tire. It's okay to get help, just be alert
  • Wave to follow, and drive to a gas station or busy place before getting out
  • If you are ever confronted by an armed carjacker don’t resist
  • Give up your keys or money if demanded without resistance
  • Don’t argue, fight or chase the robber. You can be seriously injured
  • Never agree to be kidnapped. Drop the cars keys and run and scream for help
  • If you are forced to drive, consider crashing your car near a busy intersection to attract attention so bystanders can come to your aid and call the police
  • Call the police immediately to report the crime and provide detailed information
Unfortunately, most carjackers don't want just your vehicle but the money on your person and in your bank account. They want to kidnap you and take you to an ATM and have you continually draw money within the limitations of your daily limits until they deplete your account- at which time they will most likely kill you.
 
Important Things to Consider

By no means is The following is not a perfect model of exactly what to do but instead things to consider with respect to your actions. Ideally, running and not getting pushed into the vehicle is of course the priority. But you need to consider the possible circumstances of your situation. Everyone wants to get away safely AND keep their car, but given the choice of the two I think most would agree that personal safety comes first.

Here Are A Few Things You Must Consider:

  • How many car jackers are there?
  • Where are they?
  • Are they on both sides of the car?
  • Do you have passengers?
  • How Many?
  • Are they able bodied?
  • Are they Elderly?
  • Are their infants or children in infant/child seats?
  • How hard are the rear seats to get out of quickly?
  • Are there a lot of witnesses around?
  • Is the car jacker armed?
  • How heavily?
  • How violent does the situation seem in the moment?
  • What are your surroundings?
  • If you and your passengers are running, what are your options?
  • Are you in a field or closed city street?
  • Do you have to run up a hill?
  • Would you be exposed to gunfire?
  • All of these factors influence the spur of the moment decision that you will have to make.
  • Is the situation becoming excessively violent?
  • What are my get away options?
  • Is there an infant, newborn or child strapped into the back seat that I cannot easily free? 

Think about the possibilities and consider them with a clear head and give it some thought before it really does happen. A good plan of action is key to your survival and the life of others.

More to Come...

*National Crime Victimization Survey
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) - 1999

 

 

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