FOX13 INVESTIGATES: Number of Memphis carjackings spikes during the pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every day, you get into your car without a second thought, but now more than ever in Memphis, there has been a major increase in carjackings.

However, our FOX13 investigation has uncovered that, since 2018, Memphis police are solving fewer of them each year.

We spoke to a woman who was carjacked at a gas station in Cordova in January. She asked not to be identified. FOX13 Investigates is identifying her as “Sarah.”

“My oldest daughter went into the store, and I put my card in the slots, you know, to begin to pay for the gas. I began to pump the gas. And that’s when the car pulled up. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and I looked down, and I saw the gun,” she said.

She recalled seeing at least two masked men who were wearing hoodies. Both carried guns, she said. She was being carjacked.

Her three kids were in the back seat of the car.

“I asked to allow me to get my kids,” she said.

“It’s traumatizing,” she said. “I’m on edge with everywhere that I go. My youngest son was more traumatized than my older children. I am seeking professional help for them.”

FOX13 Investigates tracked city carjackings, year on year, starting in 2017, with 210.

Four years later, by the end of 2021, carjackings had increased by 68%. Between 2020 and 2021, there were 23% more carjackings than the year before. This year’s pace is already ahead of last year, according to an examination of Memphis Police crime data.

“I think a lot of times, it’s simply joyriding,” said Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor in the Department of Law and Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City who has studied crime for 20 years.

The rise in carjackings in Memphis, he said, is a pandemic trend seen nationally.

“Once the pandemic hit, we started to see carjackings start to go up. The fact that people are wearing masks, and that has become the norm, has made it much easy, let’s say, or efficient, really, for carjackers,” Herrmann said. “I do think that a lot of the carjackers are repeat offenders, and I do think that we’re seeing a younger trend.”

Eighty-three juveniles were arrested for carjacking last year, according to numbers from Memphis police, more than any year since 2017. Sixty-five adults were arrested.

“We have seen, in the last five years of our unit, adults and juveniles who have been arrested previously for carjacking,” said Lt. Jimmy Lewis, who heads MPD’s Violent Crimes Unit, which houses a team of specialized detectives working carjackings.

Carjackings, like homicides, are tracked using what’s known as a clearance rate, a metric used to show the number of cases being solved, represented by an arrest.

Numbers obtained by FOX13 Investigates show that since 2018, the first year the unit began working carjackings, police made an arrest in 59% of their cases, followed by 2019 with a little more than 60%. In 2020, it dropped to a little more than 54%, and last year, police solved a little more than half, although Herrmann noted that this statistic is well above many departments across the country.

“I’m not sure what the police can do,” Sarah said. “I mean, it basically states that we have to protect ourselves; we have to stand our own ground to a certain extent, especially when it comes to protecting your family.”

“I would like to see (stiffer penalties) for the crime because it seems to be something that (criminals) are not afraid to do,” she said.

FOX13 also uncovered the number of juveniles who have had carjacking cases pushed through the juvenile court in the past three years ― 20% of them have their charges dismissed.

In part two of our investigation, we talk with District Attorney General Amy Weirich and have more from Memphis police about what Herrmann said is a rising trend of juveniles committing carjackings.