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Ramsey Co. sheriff issues warning to residents amid rise in carjackings

It's an issue that's been plaguing the entire metro area.

Authorities are again putting citizens on alert as a wave of carjackings continues to plague the Twin Cities.

This time the warning is coming from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, which reports over a dozen such crimes in the area over the last week:

“In the last week, 14 carjackings have been reported to law enforcement in the East Metro area,” Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said in the above news release. “Many of these stolen vehicles have also been used in a series of other crimes, including street robberies and additional auto thefts. This is a serious uptick in a criminal activity that began last summer.” 

The release lays out a number of scenarios in which the perpetrators might strike, urging drivers to be aware of their surroundings while looking out for the following types of carjacking:

• “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. 

According to the sheriff, a victim was shot at in one of the incidents, and in one recent case in Little Canada, four suspects stopped a victim at an intersection in broad daylight and stole their car — in sub-zero temperatures.

Five suspects have been arrested in the last two days, the release says, though "additional suspects remain at large and are likely responsible for other crimes, including auto theft and stealing cars that are left running unattended."

The sheriff's office shares the following tips to help prevent carjackings and auto thefts:

• Stay alert and aware of your surroundings, walking to and from your car. 

• Lock your doors and keep your windows up.

• Do not sit in your vehicle for an extended period of time.

• Do not leave your vehicle running untended, especially with children inside.

• Park in a secure, high traffic, and well-lit area.

• Call 9-1-1 if you see anything suspicious or you are concerned for your safety. 

As carjackings have risen in the Twin Cities, so have law enforcement's crackdowns on them. Earlier this month, police in Minneapolis — also experiencing a noticeable spike in the crime — arrested 46 suspects and retrieved a dozen stolen cars in a helicopter-led operation.

But it's not just Minnesota dealing with this crimewave. Carjackings are on the rise across the country. As an ABC report notes, this is largely due to the social and economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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