What Exactly Is A Carjacking?
A carjacking is a serious and violent offense whereby an assailant, many times armed with a firearm or other weapon, forcibly removes an occupant from a vehicle so that it can be stolen. This method of auto theft is often preferred over stealing an unoccupied parked car because the car does not have to damaged to be stolen. It is not uncommon for a carjacker to either kidnap the selected victim or to shoot the victim - whether or not he has complied with the presented demand for the car.
In Michigan, it is difficult to determine exactly how many carjackings occur in this state because the Michigan Incident Crime Reporting (MICR), as compiled by the Michigan State Police, classifies all carjackings as robberies. In Michigan, a robbery is defined as the following:
the taking or attempting taking anything of value under confrontational circumstances from the care or custody of control of a person or persons by force, threat of force, or violence, and/or by putting the victim in fear of immediate harm.
in 2009, the last full year of available crime statistics, it was reported that 2,647 robberies occured within the city limits of Detroit, Michigan.
Three Recent High Profile Metro-Detroit Carjackings
Last Friday, a 67 year-old man was temporarily abducted as a robber ordered him to enter his automobile and to drive the robber around the scene of the crime - The Schoenherr Market in Warren. After relieving the victim of his personal effects, the robber exited the vehicle. The suspect remain at-large.
Almost two weeks ago, a 49 year-old woman, the city of Detroit's Director of Human Resources, was approached and robbed of her vehicle at gunpoint on the city's west side of town while she was placing items inside her automobile. The suspect in this case was arrested a few hours later when patrol cops spotted the car and chased down the alleged robber who bailed from the car and tried to hide in some bushes.
Two weeks ago, a Detroit man on the west side of town was forced to defend himself after an armed assailant approached him while he was fueling up his vehicle at a gas station. Reportedly, the alleged jacker demanded the vehicle while a five year old was seated in the back seat. In the ensuing gun battle, the victim was shot at least three times and the attacker was shot an unreported number of times and died.
Safety Concept #1: Being Safe Is A Conscious Decision
For many people, personal protection is not a conscious choice. In many cases, it is only after a person has been victimized, that he realizes that decisions he made may have put him at greater risk of being attacked. Every habit, association, and behavior that a person makes should be scrutinized to determine the relative risks.
As human beings, we are largely creatures of habit. Some habits could lead to a person's victimization if they are discovered and exploited. Of the following habits, which are you guilty of doing consistently:
- Do you leave your home every day at the same time?
- Do you arrive back to your home every day at the same time?
- Do you always use the same door to enter and exit your home?
- Do you take the same route to and from work every day?
- Are elements of your daily routine largely predictable?
Associations with people of questionable character can also lead to victimization. It is easy for some people to overlook serious flaws of others who are allowed to occupy their inner circles. Rest assured, sooner or later, a bad actor who commits trespasses against others will eventually harm those whose confidences he has gained. So, if you know, associate, or befriend criminals don't be shocked if they have you set up for victimization.
Further, certain behaviors can also lead to an increased risk for victimization. In many cases, a simple change can mitigate the relative risk. For example, simply altering the time of day when you do something can be of benefit:
- Fuel up your automobile during the day
- Utilize the drive-through ATM during the day
- Not make any unnecessary trips or errands at night
Safety Concept #2: Be Situationally Aware Of Your Environment
By simply being actively aware of what is going on around you, it is possible to engage in the art of avoidance and prevent an attack before it can occur. During your every waking moment, you should always know where you are located, know who is around you, and know what other people in the area are doing.
For example, an attack can be avoided altogether if the questionable environment is not patronized. For example, if you need to stop at a gas station to fuel up your car and there are suspicious characters around, you should find another gas station.
With respect to "suspiciousness" of a person, don't place too much emphasis on actual physical appearance; their behavior or actions should also be examined. At a gas station, the people present should be predictably be engaging in the following activities: fueling up their car, arriving to the station, or leaving the station. Everyone else present should be evaluated to determine why they are there. Gas stations and parking lots are the most dangerous places to be.
Far too often many people are engrossed in activities that distract them from what is occurring under their noses. How many people have you seen sitting in a car while texting or talking on a cell phone? Or perhaps, you may have noticed someone at a gas pump watching a television screen to catch a quick update of the weather or the latest sports scores?
When people are victimized, they frequently state that their assailant seemed to "appear out of nowhere." Nothing could be further from the truth, as the bad guy was always there; the victim never paid the lurking assailant any attention. Predators prefer distracted prey.
Moreover, while on the road you should check to see if someone is following you. It is not too difficult to determine if someone "tailing" you. If you are actively aware, you will know if someone is behind you because you will check your rear-view mirror periodically throughout your trip.
If for some distance or period of time the same vehicle is behind you, you may have a carjacker in tow. To know for sure, you should vary your route - either change lanes, adjust your speed, or go off-course from your planned destination. If after several turns and changes in route do not "shake" your follower, you should assume you have a tail. In some case, a predator may break off his planned attack if he feels that he has lost the element of surprise.
Many victims are robbed in their own driveways because they didn't notice the same set of headlights following them for four blocks from the parking lot of the all-night drugstore.
Safety Concept #3: Distance Is Your Friend
A carjacking requires that an assailant be in close proximity to his targeted victim. It is next to impossible to rob someone without being physically close to him. In that vein, your personal space - whether it is your car on the road or your physical person outside of your car - should be vehemently guarded.
If you are actively aware of your environment, no one can sneak up to you to announce a surprise attack. However, not all predators will be deterred by your awareness, especially if he's confident that he can continue with the victimization quickly and safely. If the predator wants to continue with his crime, he will need to distract you. Common ruses include asking seemingly harmless questions while he continues to advance and close the distance.
A couple of years ago, a "20-something" predator attacked a WWII veteran in a Detroit parking lot in broad daylight in front of several witnesses after asking the targeted victim if had a light for a cigarette. When the victim took his eyes of the predator, he was struck 22 times in the head before the criminal drove off with the car.
Never allow someone to invade your space. You should "call him" on his aggressive behavior and ward him off from proceeding. Do not be afraid to be forceful in your warning. If you have misjudged the advancing person's intentions, he will understand your cause for alarm and not be offended. However, if you have a predator on your hands you will need to assess your options: leaving the scene or preparing to defend yourself.
Safety Concept #4: You Can't Be Carjacked While Your Car Is Moving
A driver on the road in a moving car can't be carjacked. A carjacking requires that the car be stationary. So, while you are moving you are relatively safe. However, you could be at risk as soon as you approach a stop sign or a red traffic signal. Thus, it is imperative that you practice a few practical tips.
The first thing that you want to do while stopping, is to leave yourself an "out," such that if you need to quickly leave the area nothing would impede your movement. Always allow a decent amount of space between your front bumper and the rear bumper of the car in front of you. As a general rule, you should at a minimum be far enough back so that you see the entire exposed wheels of the car ahead of you.
Secondly, when stopped on the road you should go into a heightened sense of awareness and look around you. You should assess who else is around and whether their actions are normal. Further, you should also scan the area for other folks on foot who might raise your suspicions. If trouble presents itself, you will have an opportunity to leave the area if you have left yourself a clear path.
Safety Concept #5: Pick Up The Pace
Whenever you are in the process of exiting or entering your vehicle, you are most vulnerable to being carjacked. You need to be aware and have some hustle in your gait. Hopefully, you will have scanned the area for out-of-place folks and determined that it is safe to proceed. You should already have keys in hand and not be burdened with items that take a lot of time to put away or retrieve. Getting into and exiting your car, should be "hustle time."
Safety Concept #6: A Firearm Is A Tool Of Last Resort
Sometimes, you can do everything right and still be selected for victimization. If you are being carjacked, I can think of no greater tool to have in your possession than a loaded firearm. In Michigan, a Concealed Pistol License (CPL) allows the named person to have firearm hidden on his person or in his vehicle. With a CPL, you will have a chance to defend yourself, as opposed to leaving it to the whims of a violent predator whether you will be harmed. In Michigan, it is lawful for a victim who is being forcibly removed from a vehicle to use lethal force.
No set of rules can prevent a person from being selected for victimization by a violent predator. However, by using some simple concepts a person can reduce his odds: making personal protection a conscious decision, practicing situational awareness, guarding personal space, and having a firearm present as a tool of last resort.