Employment may still be down in the Windy City, along with the number of private sector businesses still in operation. But not all of the figures in the news are trending downward. The current conditions out in the streets have led to a boom in one particular sector. Carjackers are having a field day, dragging people out of their vehicles and racing away with them at nearly record rates. And since pretty much all of them are wearing masks (just like everyone else), identifying suspects and making arrests is even more challenging than usual. Even more tragically, some of the criminals aren’t satisfied with making off with the car. They’re making sure that the victims won’t be available to testify against them. That was the case with one retired firefighter, Lt. Dwain Williams, who was shot and killed in the Morgan Park neighborhood of Chicago this week when he was running out to pick up popcorn for his family. (CBS Chicago)

A retired Chicago firefighter going to get popcorn was recently shot to death by would-be carjackers. He is one of many carjacking victims, as the city has seen a massive spike in carjackings during the pandemic. That may be because the pandemic has changed the opportunities for crime.

“I think it’s just going to keep getting worse,” said State Rep. Jaime M Andrade Jr. (D – 40th District). “I think it’s going to get worse if there’s no accountability.” …

“We’re not surprised,” Andrade said.

How bad has the problem become? Current Chicago PD records indicate that carjackings are up by 127% this year, with 532 carjackings in 2019 and 1,209 in 2020. That represents a jump in such crimes of more than double the number seen at the same time last year.

The police are obviously aware of the problem and they have been registering complaints about some of the underlying causes for a while now. The police budget has been cut and they’ve been losing officers, just like many other major cities where demands to “defund the police” have been heard in the streets and the offices of elected officials, almost all of whom are Democrats. Chicago was supposed to have established a specific carjacking task force this year, but CBS News was unable to find confirmation that such a program was ever put in place or if the Chicago PD had enough officers to do so.

But those aren’t the only problems. The local police union told reporters that prosecutions of the carjacker they do manage to catch are down, as are the sentences for those who are convicted. The state lawmaker quoted in the linked article claims that he sponsored a bill in 2017 that made it easier to identify, convict and lock up carjackers, but too many judges and prosecutors “go easy” on convicts and too many of them are back out on the streets very quickly.

Carjacking is a crime of opportunity more than anything else. With so many people out of work and stuck at home, burglary opportunities are fewer, but there are still plenty of cars around. That situation provides an opportunity for gangbangers to cash in at the expense of motorists.

This has been a repeating pattern in many cities and Chicago is no exception. There are fewer police on the streets to maintain order and those who remain are discouraged by the way they are being treated. They’re having a hard enough time trying to keep up with all of the looting that’s been going on, so reports of carjackings can’t be responded to as quickly. The thieves are all too aware of these facts and are taking advantage of the opportunity. And as the case of Dwain Williams demonstrates, some residents are paying for this situation with their lives.

As we’ve discussed here more times than I can count lately, the first responsibility of any government is to keep its citizens safe in their homes and out on the streets. Chicago needs to beef up law enforcement rather than “defunding” it and let the criminals know that they can’t get away with this. Until that happens, don’t expect much progress on this front.