As a Detroit native, Air Force veteran and occasional rideshare driver, Princess Monyea has seen some tough things in her life, but she said she didn't see it coming when a ride she gave to a group of teens last month turned into an attempted carjacking.
“I didn't even see the gun at first. I just heard him say, ‘Give me your keys, Ma,’” said Monyea, who picked up the teens in D.C. for a ride to Fairmount Heights in late November. “And I turned around, like, 'Are you kidding me? You're not really doing this.'”
In that moment, Monyea nearly became one of a record number of carjacking victims in the D.C. area this year.
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The latest data show that while carjackings are on pace to fall by nearly 10% in Fairfax County, Virginia, which has only seen a couple dozen carjackings in 2023, the crime is increasing in other parts of the D.C. region.
Year-to-date data shows carjacking has jumped roughly 40% in Montgomery County, Maryland, with more than 100 recorded as of mid-December. Prince George’s County, meanwhile, has seen a nearly 20% increase from last year and has recorded more than 490 carjackings so far.
But that's nothing compared to D.C., where carjacking has more than doubled, rising to roughly 940 carjacking reports as of this week.
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“It's getting ridiculous,” Monyea said.
D.C.'s surge comes at a time the News4 I-Team found carjacking is falling in some other major American cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore, which have all seen double-digit declines in carjacking rates from 2022.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves — whose office has fielded criticism for not pursuing more of these cases — has blamed D.C. law that loosened penalties on young violent offenders as contributing to the problem. His offices said it’s now charging more cases, and Graves is urging D.C. officials to reinstate tougher mandatory minimums for the crime.
“I have been sounding the alarm that the criminal justice system that D.C. has built does not meet the moment that we are in,” Graves said earlier this year. “The mayor has correctly flagged that the law has swung too far over the last seven years. Armed carjacking is a great example of her and my point.”
Graves’ office recently indicted 10 young people associated with carjacking rings in the District and Maryland, alleging the groups sold the cars from a garage on Florida Avenue NE.
But University of Texas at Dallas criminologist Bruce Jacobs, who has studied carjacking for years, said while a portion of carjacking is perpetuated by organized gangs, it’s also often a crime of opportunity.
“A lot of the reason that these kids are carjacking these vehicles are really mundane … Like, ‘I was stranded. I needed a ride. I didn't want to wait for the bus. No one was picking me up,’” he said.
Jacobs said while it’s tough to get a full picture of the problem due to differences in the way agencies track this form of vehicle theft, what’s clear is that roughly 75% of carjackings are committed by teens and young adults.
He agreed a perceived lack of consequences can explain some of the surge cities like D.C. are seeing.
“It’s called vicarious punishment avoidance effects, which means, ‘Oh, my friends just did this. They didn't get caught. Or if they did get caught … not much happened to them,'" he said.
A quick glance at D.C.'s carjacking data suggests some of that could be at play.
Data from the Metropolitan Police Department shows that, of the more than 900 carjackings recorded this year, there have only been about 170 arrests. It’s unclear how many carjackings those arrests are associated with. Sixty-three percent of those arrested are juveniles.
The D.C. Office of the Attorney General, which handles crimes involving kids, reports prosecuting about 57% of the roughly 170 carjacking and armed carjacking cases it received through October, saying there wasn't sufficient evidence to pursue the rest.
Monyea, who is driving Uber on the side to help her terminally ill daughter, managed to keep her car by doing what experts say you shouldn't do: She fought back. While one of the teens held a gun to her face, she said, an oncoming car tooted the horn and caught his attention.
“He turned around, and look, that was his mistake. When he did that, I shoved him as hard as I could … and then I pulled off,” she recounted.
Two of the teens were still in her backseat but bailed out when she told them she was driving them to a police station, she said.
At her family's urging, she's since installed cameras in her car and is now driving around with Kevlar plates.
“In the event somebody else points another gun at me, at least I have a way to protect myself from the shot,” she said.
Reported by Ted Oberg, produced by Katie Leslie, shot and edited by Jeff Piper. News4 I-Team reporter Tracee Wilkins contributed to this report.
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