As Detroit city drivers pull up to the gas station, they made be more concerned with a physical threat of carjackers than the spikes in gas prices. The threat is not just at the gas stations, but at intersections as well. However, gas stations are the common targets. Armed auto thieves have become more and more common in Detroit which is often referred to as The Motor City. However with the rise in auto theft crime, the old car capital could more aptly be nicknamed “Carjack City.”
Many of the motorists are nervous about getting out of their cars to fill up the tank, as gas stations have become a common place for car theft. In order to protect their customers, gas stations owners have met with the city officials to form a plan of action to deal with the issue. A special police team has been formed to go after carjacking suspects and those convicted will get the details of their prison sentences and photos of their face publicly shared via billboards and other public media.
Mousa Bazzi, who is the owner of a Mobil station in a remote area believes that this will help deter auto theft at gas stations. Bazzi always has two to four employees inside the station, in case of trouble. While his station is always well-lit, Bazzi is no stranger to automotive crime.
The city officials however blame many carjackings on improvements in vehicle security. Due to anti-theft equipment, GPS tracking systems, and advanced locking mechanisms thieves are unable to steal parked cars. This leads them to target vehicles that are occupied with the keys still inside the ignition.
Why has Detroit, which was so frequently known as the car capital turned into “Carjack City?” According to police, the contributing factor to the majority of the car thefts is the strong demand for wheels and tires, with many vehicles stolen to be sold as parts.
Some of the gas stations display light green decals with the symbol of a lighthouse on them. This is a sign that the business has proper equipment that will aid the police in search efforts for the cars. Bazzi’s station is part of the city’s anti-carjacking effort, with many other stations stepping up to participate in the program as well. To be part of the program, the station must have good lighting, security cameras, open 24 hours a day and have helpful clerks who will provide a phone to motorists that need help.
Sergeant Michael Woody advised the media that there is a waiting list of gas stations that want to become a “lighthouse.” Not only does this attract more customers, the lighthouse stations also benefit from better protection by the police.
Since the implementation of the program, the reports of carjackings have gone down significantly, however much improvement is still needed. The city, which has a population of less than 700,000 people, reported an 720 carjackings in 2013. This number is down from the 1231 reported carjackings in 2008. The decreasing population of Detroit is also believed to be the cause for decrease in car thefts, however the number of carjackings is still much higher than in similarly sized cities across the United States.
Sharlonda Buckman is just one of the many victims of auto crime in “Carjack City.” Buckman was at a gas station in October and just as she was about to leave, a carjacker shoved his gun inside her SUV. Buckman jumped out of her vehicle, the carjacker jumped in and drove off. Three other customers drove after the carjacker and one of those good Samaritans was subsequently shot in the leg. While the carjacker was eventually apprehended and put under arrest, after the fear inducing incident Buckman still avoids filling up her gas tank in the city.
In 2014, Detroit lived up to the idea that it could easily be known as “Carjack City” rather than the car capital with nearly 200 carjackings before the end of May. This list includes the February slaying of Donald Bradshaw who was 68-years-old and was beaten to death with a tire iron when carjackers attempted to steal his car at an intersection on February 4th. Just 20 days later, Courtney Meeks, who was a CVS security guard, was shot to death when she rushed towards a carjacking in progress. The threat of violence from these carjackers might lead some to believe that Detroit is not a friendly city and in fact many citizens are relocating to safer areas.
By Ivelina Kunina