Car crimes on the rise

Aliza Bellas, Reporter

On a regular day in Washington, D.C., Rakesh Patel, a 33-year-old doctor from Silver Spring, M.D, was trying to drop off a gift for his girlfriend when he turned around to see that someone had hopped into his car and driven away. 

Patel ran after the car in an attempt to recover his vehicle; however, he was run over and  killed. Patel’s story shook the public.

Carjackings, or the act of violently breaking into and stealing an occupied car, have risen in Montgomery County to an all time high in 2021. 

Captain Ruben Rosario, Director Over Major Crimes Division in Montgomery County, thinks carjackings are not random, but rather a result of a “disconnect” in society due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You know, not to just sweep everything under the umbrella of the pandemic but that’s been a huge stressor for society,” Rosario said. “I think all of that disconnect and space, lack of access to resources and services is all part of the equation.”

These carjackings have not only spiked in Montgomery County, but according to Rosario, are a national trend. Other car crimes such as break-ins and theft have also trended upwards by 29%, according to a Montgomery County crime report. 

At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, senior Sean Rich’s car was broken into while he was hiking on River Road in Potomac. Rich said that he was genuinely “shocked” to see that someone had broken into his car. 

When the police force is working to solve a carjacking case, they try to obtain as much information as possible about who committed the crime in order to try and recover the car, as well as prosecute the offender. 

To solve a carjacking case, Rosario said that it is important to get a detailed description of the suspect, including the weapon they were using, a description of the stolen car, any video surveillance that may have been available at the time and then provide this information to patrol officers to look out for the car. 

Rosario explained that it is crucial for people to take the necessary safety measures in order to protect their cars and lower these carjacking numbers to a minimum.  Parking in a well-lit area and remaining aware of anybody standing nearby who looks like they may be waiting for an opportunity to commit a carjacking or car break-in are the most important tools to keep in mind. 

However, when Rich’s car was broken into, he did not think that he could have taken any additional preventative measures.

“I don’t think there is anything I could have done,” Rich said. 

If you are approached by a carjacker, Rosario said the safest thing to do is to immediately hand over your car. It is important to remember to alert the police that your car was stolen.

“If someone challenges me for my vehicle with a weapon, I love my family too much and myself too much to risk that over a car,” Rosario said. “We almost always find the car, we do the best we can to recover your vehicle, and at the end of the day we want to get you home safe to your family.”

Not only is it important that individuals provide the information necessary to recover their own cars, but rather, Rosario said we must all contribute to reporting these incidents and helping solve the issue as a “community.” According to the Assistant D.C. Police Chief Lamar Greene in a Washington Post article, about 65% of the carjacking cases have been solved. However, Rosario said without the work of everyone together, he thinks that they would not be able to solve most of these cases. 

“We do well as a police department, mainly because we have such an amazing community,” Rosario said. “We just have to initiate that partnership right away and I think together most of the time, we do get it done.”

Additionally, Rosario would like to make it clear to everyone that the police do everything they can to recover these cars, but that in the moment, you must do whatever necessary to protect yourself. 

“Life over property every day and all day,” Rosario said.