Continued carjackings prompt warnings from Twin Cities law enforcement

Despite recent reports of multi-agency sting operations designed to crackdown on robbery and carjacking suspects, very few people have been charged with the offense.

Surveillance footage captured a pair of carjackers stealing a BMW on a busy Minneapolis street.

At least fourteen carjackings took place in one week in Ramsey County and the city of Minneapolis has tallied over 50 so far this year, prompting new warnings from local law enforcement officials.

Those new figures come on the heels of an alarming rise in carjackings across Minneapolis and St. Paul last year.

Minneapolis had over 400 carjackings in 2020, which reflected an increase of over 300% from the prior year. St. Paul didn’t delineate carjackings in its 2020 year-end crime statistics, but stated that violent crimes increased by nearly 25% last year. Robbery, which would include carjackings, increased by over 32% in that city in 2020.

The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office issued a warning on Friday in response to the increase in carjackings in their county and said that in a number of cases the suspects are using handguns or force to gain compliance.

On Tuesday, the Minneapolis Police Department issued a similar warning, stating that the city has seen an “alarming rise” in carjackings, auto thefts and thefts of vehicle parts like catalytic converters and license plates.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said they’re seeing a “serious uptick” in incidents that began last summer. He said that oftentimes the carjacked vehicles are being used to commit other robberies and auto thefts.

Last week alone, Sheriff Fletcher said that 14 carjackings had been reported to law enforcement in the east metro area.

Fletcher said the suspects generally work in groups and use a variety of techniques and tactics to distract victims or catch them off guard, including:

  • “Blocking” – suspects block the street with a second car preventing the victim from escaping. With the victim’s car blocked, suspects steal the victim’s car and take any valuables, including cell phones, wallets, money, etc. Suspects threaten the victim with a handgun or force.
  • “Bump and rob” – suspects in a vehicle cause a minor collision and use it as a distraction. With the victim distracted by the car accident, suspects hope the victim will exit their vehicle to assess the damage. As the victim exits their car, suspects steal the victim’s car and take any valuables. If victims do not leave their vehicles, suspects escalate force to steal the victim’s car.
  • “Gas pumps” – suspects drive up to a vehicle while the victim is pumping gas. Suspects then steal the victim’s car and drive off. If necessary, suspects use force.
  • “Asking for help” or other “distractions” – suspects ask for directions or help jump starting their vehicle. With the victim willing to help, suspects steal the victim’s car and take any valuables. Suspects use the “distraction” as an opportunity to get close to the victim and their car. Once in victim’s personal space, suspects use force to steal the victim’s car.
  • “Warming up” – suspects look for vehicles that are left running unattended and warming up due to the cold weather. Suspects watch for victims to come to their vehicles so the suspects can gain control of car’s key fob. Suspects approach on foot or in a secondary vehicle. Suspects, with force or threat of force, steal the victim’s car and take any valuables.

Sheriff Fletcher said that one brazen carjacking that occurred in Little Canada “took place in broad daylight, at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, at a busy intersection when temperatures were below zero.” In that incident, the suspect vehicle pulled in front of the victim’s car at an intersection, blocking the victim from leaving. Four suspects then approached the victim’s vehicle and pointed guns at the victim. The suspects told the victim to exit their car and leave their wallet. The suspects then fled in the suspect vehicle and the victim’s stolen car.

Despite recent reports of multi-agency sting operations designed to crackdown on robbery and carjacking suspects, very few people have been charged with the offense.

KARE11 reported on Tuesday that of the 46 people arrested in a three-day sting operation late last month, only 12 cases have been presented to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for charging. Of those cases, only five were able to be charged, and none of those were charged related to carjacking. The five men being prosecuted were charged with some form of drug offense, according to the report.

An MPD spokesperson told KARE11 that they weren’t done investigating because many of the cases are “intertwined” and they are trying to “package up” the crimes and cases for presentation to the county attorney for charging.

Following a similar sting operation in December, a St. Paul man was charged in connection to a series of five robberies and carjackings that authorities say he committed with a juvenile partner in just over 70 minutes in the early morning hours the day after Thanksgiving.

Of the 41 arrests made during the December sting operation, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said his office had only been presented with 11 cases. Of those, he said that felony charges were filed in only ten cases, and most were not related to carjacking.

Alpha News reported late last month that six Twin Cities men who are believed to be gang members are facing federal charges related to a series of violent carjackings that took place between last May and January.

Ramsey County Sheriff Fletcher said that east metro law enforcement agencies had arrested five suspects last week. However, additional suspects remain at large and are likely responsible for other crimes, he said.

Sheriff Fletcher advised that to avoid carjackings people should stay alert and aware of their surroundings, keep windows up and doors locked and park in secure, well-lit areas.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.