ST. PAUL — During a carjacking this week, people pulled up to a man driving in Little Canada and used their vehicle to block his path. Four people approached and ordered him at gunpoint to exit his vehicle and leave his wallet. They drove off in his vehicle.
The case, one of at least 14 carjackings in the east metro in the last week, shows the increasingly aggressive tactics of those carrying out carjackings, said Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher on Friday, Feb. 12, as he issued a public warning about them.
Law enforcement was getting reports about people being robbed of their vehicles as they sat in them, or as they walked to or away from their cars. Now, they’re hearing about people being blocked in by suspect vehicles or carjackers causing minor crashes to get drivers out of their vehicles, among other distraction techniques, Fletcher said.
“It’s been a dramatic increase in the last two weeks and the tactics have expanded to be more aggressive,” Fletcher said. “When they start blocking cars at 2 in the afternoon (in Little Canada) and preventing them from proceeding, you know the desperation of the criminals has increased. We get concerned that the more desperate they get, the more likely they are to use violence.”
Eleven of the cases reported over the last week were in Ramsey County, mostly in St. Paul. There were two in Washington County and one in Dakota County, according to Fletcher.
Many of the stolen vehicles were used in a series of other crimes, including street robberies and additional auto thefts.
What to watch for
In most cases, suspects have threatened people with handguns. During a robbery last Friday in St. Paul’s Highland Park, a fleeing suspect fired a gun in the direction of a man who intervened when two women began screaming about being robbed, according to St. Paul police.
Suspects have typically been traveling in groups of two or four in stolen vehicles. During a carjacking, one usually threatens the victim and steals the vehicle, while another suspect drives the getaway car.
Fletcher asked people to be on alert to tactics used by carjackers, such as:
- Suspects may block the street with a vehicle to prevent the victim from escaping a carjacking.
- A suspect may cause a minor collision and use it as a distraction. When someone exits their vehicle to check for damage, suspects steal the vehicle.
- Suspects use other distractions, such as asking for directions or help, and then steal the person’s vehicle.
- People have been driving up while someone is pumping gas and stealing their vehicle.
- Carjackers have been watching for vehicles that are left running to warm up and then steal the victim’s key fob from them when they go out to their vehicle.
There have also been recent instances of suspects asking people if their cars are trackable with GPS. If they are, they rob them of their personal belongings, but not the vehicle.
Six men were recently federally charged in connection with a series of carjackings across the east metro.
In the last two days, Fletcher said five people have been arrested, including two teens in St. Paul on Wednesday night. That followed a series of carjackings in the area of University Avenue and Lexington Parkway, Rice Street, and the Hamline-Midway and Dayton’s Bluff areas.
There have been an influx of cases in Highland Park. A woman was recently rear-ended and the other driver tried to get her to exit her vehicle, but she drove away, Fletcher said. About 15 minutes later, a vehicle matching the same description approached another driver in Highland Park and carjacked them of their vehicle, according to Fletcher.
Pat McGuire, who lives in Highland Park, said he noticed a vehicle following him closely on Mount Curve Boulevard and Highland Parkway on Monday night. He suspected they were trying to rear-end him and rob him of his vehicle, so he turned at Randolph Avenue and they broke away. Soon after, he heard someone had been carjacked in the area.
“I’ve told my wife, ‘If somebody hits you, do not stop. You step on the gas,'” McGuire said. “This is out of control.”
Arrests show many of the carjackings are being carried out by juveniles, according to Fletcher, which is part of national trend.
“Is it the pandemic? Is it boredom?,” Fletcher asked. He added that he also thinks people know that law enforcement doesn’t readily pursue vehicles anymore, with departments citing safety concerns about chases, so they believe they’ll get away with it.
Fletcher said he and others are talking to some families of teenagers suspected of being involved in auto thefts, trying to help them get onto the right path.
Law enforcement is also working to get quicker communication between departments on both sides of the Mississippi River because stolen vehicles can quickly cross into St. Paul or Minneapolis, but the official routes of notifying other law enforcement agencies about them aren’t “as quick as it really should be,” Fletcher said.
The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office provided safety information, including:
- Stay alert and aware of your surroundings as you walk to and from your car.
- Lock your car doors, keep windows up.
- Avoid sitting in your vehicle for an extended amount of time.
- Don’t leaving your vehicle running unattended, especially with children inside.
- Park in secure, high traffic and well-lit areas.
- Call 911 if you see suspicious activity or are concerned for your safety.