FOX13 Investigates: Kids make up over 70% of Memphis carjacking arrests, data shows

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nearly 3/4 of carjackings this year were committed by juveniles, according to data from Memphis Police.

Imagine you’re driving along or have your car parked, getting gas, when someone walks up to you with a gun and demands you give them your car.

That’s the reality one mother says she endured.

In part one of our series, we told you about a major increase in carjackings.

FOX13 INVESTIGATES: Number of Memphis carjackings spikes during the pandemic

Now, FOX13 Investigates uncovered the rise in carjackings in Memphis being committed by kids.

A woman FOX13 Investigates is identifying as Sarah pulled to a pump at a gas station in Cordova, she said, recalling the January incident in which she was carjacked. Two men jumped out of a car and demanded hers, according to the police report.

Her kids were in the backseat.

“He opened the door, he looked at me, and looked at him, and I looked down and I saw the gun,” she said. “As he was pulling the door; that’s when he demanded, in his words, drop it off.”

“I didn’t care about the car, I didn’t care about the contents, the car, my wallet, everything was in there. … As we get out, he got in. And from there, he drove off.”

She said she watched the suspect drive away, and FOX13 Investigates examination shows more than 1,500 people since 2017 in Memphis have done the same after being carjacked.

That number increased by 68 percent through this year, and by nearly a fourth just from 2020 to 2021.

MORE: Police identify Whitehaven attempted carjacking suspect

An increasing ratio of people that police classify as “juveniles” are behind them.

A Memphis Police breakdown of arrest data shows, after 2017, adults made up the majority of those being arrested for carjacking in 2018, 2019 and 2020. In 2021, juveniles made up the majority of arrests at 56 percent.

So far, in 2022, a staggering 72 percent of carjacking arrests have been juveniles, and some of those arrested are behind more than one.

“A lot of the carjackers are repeat offenders and I do think that we’re seeing a younger trend,” said Christopher Herrmann, a crime analyst and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

“We do see repeat offenders on the adult and juvenile side,” said Lt. Jimmy Lewis runs the violent crimes unit at the Memphis Police Department. Starting with its formation in 2018, the unit is responsible for investigating every carjacking in the city.

“We had a case recently, where three individuals were arrested for a carjacking. Once we got those individuals our office, two of the individuals were juveniles who had been arrested in our office in 2021; one individual had an ankle monitor on from juvenile court from our previous carjacking case.”

FOX13 Investigates requested information on hundreds of juveniles arrested in recent years from the Shelby County juvenile court.

Starting in 2019 and running through the middle of Feb., 182 juveniles charged with carjacking had cases that resulted in an outcome.

In 60 percent of cases, the juvenile spent time at a detention facility, or their case was sent to adult criminal court; about 20 percent had their cases put in a diversion program, allowing them to clear their records if they stay out of trouble; another 20 percent had their charges completely dismissed.

FOX13 Investigates wanted to know why some juveniles were able to commit multiple carjackings. Police declined to answer questions about anything happening after an arrest has been made and charges filed.

“Once we charge an individual for a carjack and we transport them, whether it be to (the county jail) or juvenile court, that’s up to the judicial system to take over from that point,” Lewis said.

MORE: MPD releases video of carjacking suspects

We did take our questions to Shelby County District Attorney Gen. Amy Weirch. Her office handled each of the 182 juvenile prosecutions. FOX13 Investigates asked if her office had been too lenient.

“Our options as it relates to juvenile offenders who commit violent crime are fairly limited,” Weirich said.

“I do think there are certainly opportunities here for us to tighten up and toughen up. (There) were 551 juveniles last year who committed serious, violent crime, and half of those are repeat offenders. We’re not getting their attention; we’re not deterring them from future criminal conduct.”

Memphis is not the only city to see jumps in the number of carjackings. Herrmann said they’re also up in Oakland, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Chicago, and like those other cities, the same groups are behind the carjackings.

“A lot of those youths are typically involved in what we call organized crime jacking carjacking crews. They’re typically stealing these cars for joyriding purposes for simple transportation to and from places or they’re stealing them to commit other crimes,” Herrmann said.

As for exactly how to solve the repeat offender issue, both Herrmann and Weirch pointed to fixes in the criminal justice system that could help stop what is being likened to a revolving door.

“We need truth in sentencing; our laws need to mean what they say,” Weirch said. “You get 10 years in the federal system, you’re doing 10 years.”

“Especially if there’s a weapon involved, I definitely think that those are the types of people that that should be behind bars awaiting trial,” Herrmann said.

With little confidence in the criminal justice system that is allowing repeat offenders back on the street, Sarah sees no fear of repercussions,” she said.

“I don’t know exactly what happens when they are apprehended but clearly, it’s not something that they’re afraid to deal with,” she said. “I’m on edge with everywhere that I go.”

MPD said they have a team of detectives that works specifically to determine whether a carjacked car was used in other crimes in the city, which is what happened in Young Dolph’s murder.

The accused gunmen allegedly used a car that had been carjacked just a week before the rapper was gunned down.

MORE: Autopsy report reveals Young Dolph suffered 22 gunshot wounds

MPD said they send cases of certain adult repeat carjacking offenders to federal prosecutors where not only are penalties much steeper, but once convicted, a person will spend at least 85 percent of their sentence behind bars.

MPD couldn’t give FOX13 Investigates exact numbers on how many times they’ve utilized that partnership.

Weirch’s office provided numbers to show they took nearly 10 times as many cases to federal prosecutors in 2021 as they did in 2019.

An examination by FOX13 Investigates also shows no legislation on reforming state carjacking laws has been filed in at least 7 years in Tennessee.