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D.C. police distribute free AirTags for vehicles as carjackings soar

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Guy Marshall waited in his Toyota RAV4 in the RFK Stadium parking lot as D.C. police helped those in front of him set up Bluetooth-enabled tracking devices in their vehicles.

Marshall, 73, said his wife’s car was stolen earlier this year. When he heard about the device giveaway on the radio, he decided to take advantage of it.

“They didn’t take anything. They just messed up the ignition, drove it up Northwest somewhere, and they left it in the alley behind somebody’s house off of Florida Avenue,” he said. “It makes you more conscious of what’s going on around you. You pull up to the house; you’re looking around because of carjackings.”

D.C.-area carjackings have soared. Here’s where they’re happening.

The Tuesday night event — passing out free AirTags for iPhone users and Tile trackers for people using Android — was one of the latest efforts by city leadership to address carjackings in the District.

D.C. police Sgt. Anthony Walsh said there have been three instances in which D.C. police were able to track and recover a stolen car through tracking devices. While no D.C. police AirTags have been used to track any vehicle so far, Walsh is hopeful it will help with recovering stolen cars and deterring thieves.

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“People are waiting in line for hours to say, ‘I want this device so that if something happens, we can get it quickly,’” Walsh said. “We’re trying everything we can as an agency, including in D.C. government, to be creative in what we’re deploying as another tool.”

D.C. officials have been confronting a spike in violent crime, with carjackings driving much of the worry and rhetoric among policymakers and residents.

As of Tuesday, there had been more than 920 carjackings reported in D.C. in 2023 — more than double the 447 reported at the same time last year, according to police data. An FBI agent was carjacked in November, and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.) was carjacked the month before in front of his apartment building in the Navy Yard area.

Carjackings in the D.C. region have increased every year since 2018, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from area police departments. The District, Maryland and Virginia reported more than 200 carjackings in 2018, a number that swelled to more than 1,000 by the end of 2022.

Tuesday night at RFK Stadium, the line of cars snaked through the parking lot and spilled into the street. D.C. police declined to share statistics about the program so far, including how many tracking devices have been distributed. Residents of Police Service Area 507 in Northeast Washington were being offered devices Wednesday between 4:30 and 7 p.m. in Lot 3 of the stadium, at 1900 E. Capitol St. NE. Officials encouraged residents outside the designated areas to buy their own tracking devices for about $30.

“This is something all Washingtonians should consider,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said last month when announcing the program.

In a similar program to fight car theft in New York, Mayor Eric Adams (D) announced earlier this year the city would give away 500 Apple AirTags, ABC News reported.

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In recent years there has also been a spike nationwide in catalytic converter thefts, prompting police in Takoma Park, Md., to team up with a local mechanic to etch tag numbers on catalytic converters to deter thieves seeking the part for its precious metals.

Sgt. Walsh recommends residents “be safe in your space.” Don’t leave holiday shopping bags visible in your vehicle. And instead of walking to and from your car with a lot of bags, consolidate them.

Julia Warren, 76, of Ward 8 said she came for a tracking device after an incident in which people tried to steal her car but could not get it started. She’s afraid of being a carjacking victim.

“Now when you get in your car, you’ve got to look around and see if somebody is going to come up and knock you on your head and take your car,” Warren said as she waited in the distribution line. She said she has been in the city her entire life, and her sense of safety today is “real bad.”

DeChane Dorsey, 52, said she appreciates the city program but has been disappointed by the city’s response to D.C. police staffing shortages. She thinks crime is as bad now as when she moved to the city in 1992 and puts crime among juveniles “at epidemic rates.”

“The council and the mayor’s response has been inadequate to ensure the safety of people who live in the city,” she said while waiting in her Tesla Model S. “As long as the city suggests there’s no consequences for juvenile offenders, there is no deterrent.”

Although Dorsey has not been a victim of car theft, she said she hoped to get a tracking device to either prevent theft or help locate her car if it is stolen.

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“It is not lost on me that if so many car thefts and carjackings were not happening … this wouldn’t be necessary,” she said.



Source: Washington Post

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