A day after Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Tx.) was carjacked Monday night by three armed attackers, D.C. police spelled out their efforts and the challenges they’re facing in curbing the violent crime plaguing the city.
Cuellar was not hurt and his car was quickly recovered.
“I can say in reference to that carjacking in particular, U.S. Capitol Police is leading the investigation and we have been in communication with them today. We will continue to support them in any way that they need,” said Assistant Chief of the Investigative Services Bureau Carlos Heraud.
There have been more than 750 carjackings so far this year, 75% of them involving guns and a growing number of them conducted by teenagers, many of them 16 to 17 years old.
Heraud told reporters outside police headquarters in downtown Washington that up to a dozen detectives are assigned to the Carjacking Task Force, and the unit coordinates its efforts with other area police departments and with federal agencies.
“We’re taking a very fluid approach to this. Every day it changes and every day we make the changes along with it. … What we realize is that these violent offenses are occurring Thursday evening to Monday morning when they most likely occur,” said Heraud.
He said police patrols are being buttressed by the Robbery Suppression Unit from 8 p.m. Thursday evenings to 4 a.m. Monday mornings.
While the congressman was carjacked in the Navy Yard neighborhood, Heraud said police are responding across the city.
“So it’s an entire citywide approach and we shift our resources as it’s happening, very much real-time … Resources shift hourly or by the day. I don’t think it’s confined to any particular part of the city, any particular neighborhood, but we stay very fluid and attempt to stop it from occurring anymore,” said Heraud.
D.C. crime data indicates there have been at least 113 arrests for carjackings so far this year — 65% of those arrested are juveniles.
The veteran police investigator said he doesn’t know why there’s been a big upswing in the number of juvenile carjackers.
“I think if we knew the ‘why,’ we’d be able to address this much better. We have to get in the heads of those juveniles and see: Is it social media-run? Is it a lack of consequence that’s contributing to this? Is it conversations that they’re having in school?” Heraud said.
The accused carjackers are usually tight-lipped.
“I’m not aware of any case of a juvenile (accused of carjacking) actually talking to detectives when they’re apprehended,” said Heraud.
He said police work daily with the U.S. Attorney for D.C. and the D.C. Attorney General, who is responsible for prosecuting juvenile crime in the District.
“Every time we have a 16- or 17-year-old that’s been arrested for a carjacking or a Title 16 eligible offense, we present it to the U.S. Attorney’s Office first — give them the right to refuse before we present the case to the office of the Attorney General,” said Heraud.
Title 16 allows the U.S. Attorney for D.C. to prosecute juveniles as adults for certain crimes.
With the threat of carjackings seemingly present across the city, Heraud was asked to give advice to drivers facing the potential of car jacking, and to those caught in one.
Heraud recommended drivers be aware of their surroundings when getting in and out of their vehicle, lock their doors and remember their keys.
“When you park your vehicle or enter your vehicle, try to move as quickly as possible. … When you’re sitting in your vehicle idling, you just got in and … you want to get settled, you’re sitting there with the headlights usually on,” said Heraud. “Most of our cars have automatic lights, those automatic lights, you can see them from blocks away and more than likely it indicates there’s someone sitting in that car and that car is occupied. So if you’re going to get in your car, try to pull off as quickly as possible.”
Heraud said anyone facing a carjacker should absolutely cooperate.: “A car is property. Property could be replaced. I don’t think anybody should put themselves in a situation to resist or confront the person trying to take their property.”
Police also recommend crime victims try to get a good description of their attackers.
“One of the difficulties that we’re seeing now is that these individuals are wearing masks like we haven’t seen before, not only the ski mask, but the surgical masks which make it very difficult to ID,” said Heraud. “Even if we believe we have the right person, getting that identification from the victim often is difficult. But if you’re able to get a very good description of the individual, so when we catch them, we can hold them accountable.”