Detroit Police Chief James Craig greets carjacking victim Jessie Rutledge before sharing his own story of a near-carjacking. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Detroit Police Chief James Craig told a crowd gathered Monday evening for an anti-carjacking program that he narrowly avoided a carjacking himself on a recent Friday night while driving an unmarked police car.
Craig detailed a stop at a red light two weeks ago on Jefferson Avenue.
“There are certain cars each suspect tends to (be attracted) to, and I guess they liked my police car — a police car with lights,” Craig said. “And one suspect jumped out and began running toward the passenger side of my vehicle ... As soon as I saw the suspect running to my car, I accelerated out of harm’s way.
“And then, candidly, I got angry ... I said, ‘I can’t believe this just almost happened.’”
Craig told more than 50 people gathered for the anti-carjacking program that thugs are doing more than scaring them. They are sizing them up, seeking out who’s vulnerable and aware of the best spots to pounce.
Craig said when he began his post in July, he found carjacking was “almost like a way of life in Detroit.”
As of Monday, there have been 582 carjackings in Detroit, a 1 percent decrease compared the same period in 2012, according to Detroit police spokeswoman Kelly Miner.
It takes about seven seconds to consider victims at red lights, train crossings, fast food and other drive-throughs, and parking lots, especially vehicles parked farther from the store, offer the most attractive spots, Detroit police Detective Brian Fountain said.
Police also noted that when carjackers aim a gun, there’s an 85 percent chance they’ll shoot.
“The carjackers are prepared — that’s why they have a gun,” Fountain said. “And they are prepared to use that gun, so you have to pay attention.”
Using video footage of real carjackings, Fountain pointed out how many victims telegraph to thieves they are vulnerable. Footage showed people talking on their cellphones, distracted or not aware of their surroundings and failing to notice suspicious characters loitering nearby.
Jesse Rutledge told the crowd he was carjacked in front of his barber shop on Detroit’s east side in March.
“The youngest one, 15 years old, had the gun,” Rutledge said. “He said, ‘I’ll kill you. Give me your keys.’”
They were caught a half-hour later by Eastpointe police.
“The saddest thing,” he said, “was they had done it before.”
Police and prosecutors also said carjackers use common tactics such as the “bump and rob,” where suspects hit a victim’s car from behind, waits for the victim to exit the vehicle, then the carjacker or helper drives off in it.
Fountain recommends drivers involved in an accident where they feel uncomfortable remain in their vehicle, signal the other driver to follow them to the nearest police station.
“Carjackers are getting younger, they’re getting bolder and most of all they are usually armed,” said Terri Miller, executive director of Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (H.E.A.T.), a prevention program that offers rewards for tips leading to an arrest through a confidential hotline.
“And cars are harder to steal with newer technology now, so they have to turn to carjacking. That’s why we are seeing the rash of carjacking crimes in the city.”
Another anti-carjacking measure is VIN-etching, engraving the vehicle identification number into the car’s windshield, which provides helpful information for law enforcement searching for the car while reducing the value of the car to thieves because auto parts retailers won’t buy items with a VIN number, Fountain said.
Detroit police are offering free VIN-etching from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at a mobile command unit at Joy Road and Evergreen in Detroit.