Montgomery County suffered 49 carjackings from January through March in a record high for the first quarter of the year, according to Data Montgomery. The highest first-quarter number was previously eighteen in 2021.
The frequency of incidents since then has fallen, but the county is on track to count a record number of carjackings for the sixth year running. Montgomery County saw eight carjackings in 2017, which grew to 80 last year; the figure for 2023 already stands at 74, according to Data Montgomery.
The entire Washington, D.C. region has seen a similar trend over time; The Washington Post reported in June that .
This year, though, has seen a divergence. While Fairfax County, Virginia, and Prince George’s County have seen no increase this year over last year, 2023 will most likely be a record year for carjackings in both Montgomery County and Washington, D.C.—the .
In Montgomery County and elsewhere, teenagers—particularly groups of teens—have become the most frequent suspects in carjackings, a phenomenon also seen in a . (Carjackings include violence or the threat of violence; car thefts do not.)
The 49 carjackings in the first quarter of this year were particularly alarming to local officials and residents.
“[We] typically see single digit reported incidents” during those months, Montgomery County Police Major Crimes Division Capt. Sean Gagen said.
Gagen attributes the dropoff in the subsequent months to arrests. Other county leaders cited the use of a new license-plate reader, collaboration with agencies in neighboring areas and, going forward, addressing needs of local youth.
Teens arrested in many carjackings
Among the 21 people arrested for carjackings this year, police charged a Germantown 15-year-old with a strong-arm carjacking in Germantown on Jan. 19 and a Rockville 16-year-old and a D.C. 17-year-old for a strong-arm carjacking in Germantown on March 25. A strong-arm carjacking is when someone uses bodily force, not a weapon, in order to gain access to someone’s car.
Recently, three teenagers—ages 13, 16 and 17— were arrested and charged Aug. 3 for a June 21 carjacking in downtown Silver Spring, Montgomery County Police said in a press release.
The county’s 3rd police district, centered on Silver Spring, and 4th police district, centered on Wheaton, have been frequent targets of carjackers.
Montgomery County Councilmember Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6) is prioritizing this issue because her district includes Wheaton, which has seen a spike in carjackings this year.
Fani-González has a long-term approach for reducing carjackings: improving the lives of young people who are likely to commit these crimes.
“It’s not just talking about the police; we need to make sure that we focus on the social net with the young folks,” Fani-González said.
Wheaton worries about violence
Concerns remain for people who frequent Westfield Wheaton Mall. Sixteen percent of the carjackings that have occurred this year have been at or around the mall, according to the data.
Most notably, Monteray Horn, 43, of Washington, D.C. allegedly attempted to commit five carjackings in the parking lot of the Westfield Wheaton mall and shot a woman in the face March 11. She survived the attack, police recently told MoCo360.
Horn was arrested that day and charged with multiple counts of carjacking, attempted second-degree murder, felony possession of a gun and other charges, according to police. In May, he was deemed incompetent to stand trial, according to court records.
“Hearing about the news of carjacking and crime in [Wheaton] picking up within the last six months or so makes me worry that this area seems vulnerable,” Joe Chiao, 60, of Ellicott City said this month at the Westfield Wheaton mall. Chiao is a doctor who works in the Westfield Wheaton South Building, so he is around the mall every day.
At the time of the March 11 crime spree, patrons at the mall complained about the lack of real-time safety communications at and around the mall.
Philip Daley, general manager at Westfield Wheaton, declined an interview with MoCo360 but said in an email in July that he is grateful for the support law enforcement has provided to the mall and community, and he would like to continue collaborating with them.
“Safeguarding the health, safety, and well-being of everyone visiting and working at Westfield Wheaton is always our highest priority,” Daley said. “We are diligent about coordinating our security training and preparedness with local law enforcement, making appropriate plans based on the needs of the shopping center.”
The security procedures the mall has in place, which include 24-hour onsite security guard coverage, 24-hour exterior mobile patrol, a 24-hour onsite security operations center, off-duty law enforcement onsite coverage, electronic security and access control, and crisis and emergency response training.
It was not clear whether those were existing or newly implemented measures.
Chiao said he believed that a lack of security was a reason that perpetrators had been targeting the mall so much and that continuing to add more is an effective solution.
“The presence of police is very important. I’m one for having more police and more security,” Chiao said.
Montgomery County police collaborate with other agencies in region
Gagen points to frequent collaboration with other agencies in the region as a tool to conduct investigations and make arrests because some individuals and groups committ multiple incidents.
“We’re not typically seeing that one individual is responsible for a one-on-one case; we typically see individuals or groups of individuals that are responsible for a series of different cases,” Gagen said.
Also, one person or group can be responsible for carjackings in multiple counties or jurisdictions. For example, Horn allegedly committed an armed carjacking in Washington D.C. before coming to Montgomery County.
Elsewhere in the region, many localities have seen carjacking numbers plateau or drop this year.
Neighboring Prince George’s County, with a population of 946,971, has reported 286 carjackings so far this year, which is almost exactly the same as the 285 it had at this point in 2022.
Baltimore County, with a population of 846,161, has seen a 25% decrease in carjackings from January-August last year to that same period this year. There have been 48 carjackings so far, said Trae Corbin, public information officer for Baltimore County Police.
However, Washington, D.C., with a population of 671,803, has seen carjackings skyrocket, from 485 last year to 606 so far in 2023.
Understanding patterns in other parts of the region is crucial for decreasing carjackings in each jurisdiction, Gagen said.
“We work very closely with our crime analysts to make sure that we’re identifying trends when they’re occurring so that we can get that information out to our patrol districts so that they can put their resources into the areas that are being impacted,” Gagen said. “We’ve recently had some arrests that have been made by patrol that have been put into those areas.”
County Councilmember Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1), whose district includes Bethesda, agrees that a collaborative, regional effort is crucial.
“I have called for more regional coordination and enhanced data on all levels to address these concerns, which will make for quicker, more targeted action against crime,” Friedson said.
Other solutions to carjacking trend
Montgomery County Police reinstated their Auto Theft Enforcement Section in June, which prioritizes reducing car thefts, including carjackings.
Also, Montgomery County began last year to use license plate readers as a tool to track down car thieves and aid investigations, said Earl Stoddard, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer in Montgomery County.
“One of the things we’ve learned a lot over the last year is that people stealing cars are utilizing other stolen vehicles to get to that location and further that crime,” Stoddard said. “We’ve found great success in using license plate readers to intervene in those cases.”
The Automatic License Plate Recognition System was implemented in the county on Oct. 31, 2022. It is used to identify “vehicles of interest,” including stolen vehicles or tags, vehicles belonging to or operated by wanted or missing individuals, and vehicles flagged by the Motor Vehicle Administration, according to police.
Stoddard said that the county plans to install additional license plate readers and camera platforms.
“When we’re making arrests based upon investigations, we’ve been able to significantly have our numbers start trending lower and lower into more of a normal range over the last several months, in the second quarter of the year,” Gagen said.
Stoddard said he has noticed that the county has had reduced carjackings, especially in certain districts, since May.
“The downtown Silver Spring district sent out a notification to the community that during the entire month of May, we only had one carjacking in the Silver Spring district,” Stoddard said.
That armed carjacking happened in the 900 block of Silver Spring Avenue on May 14.
Since then, there have been two carjackings in June, two in July and four so far in August in the Silver Spring police district, according to police.
However, usually more carjackings occur in the third quarter, which consists of July, August and September, than the first two quarters of the year, according to Gagen.
He said he hopes to continue the trend of fewer carjackings and avoid the typical summer spike.
At the Westfield Wheaton Mall on Aug. 3, Mo, 57, who preferred not to share her last name, said that she feels safe in the Wheaton area, which she has frequented, because “crime is everywhere,” and she has learned how to be careful while still going about her day normally.
“You just have to be vigilant and watch your surroundings to make sure that you are aware,” she said.