WASHINGTON – Take away the 14-year-old carjacker who commandeered a Honda Accord that was being driven by a 12-year-old in Prince George’s County.
And take away the syringe-wielding assailant who seized a maroon Mitsubishi Galant in Baltimore.
Take away exceptions like those, and carjacking in the state follows a predictable and still frightening pattern, according to Maryland State Police data from 2002, the most recent year for which carjacking statistics were available.
A Capital News Service analysis of the data shows that carjackers are almost exclusively men between ages 16 and 35 who target other men nearly three times more often than they target women.
Handguns were the weapon of choice, used in 528 of the 771 carjackings reported in the state in 2002. But police said carjackers also used shotguns, an ice pick, a mallet, a stun gun and a brick to commit their crimes. In 136 cases, carjackers used no weapon at all.
But when a man with his head covered approaches yelling obscenities, most people hand over the keys, even if he does not have a weapon, said Lt. Robert Nealon II, commander of the robbery section of the Prince George’s Police Department.
“It throws you back. They jump in the car and roll,” Nealon said.
He should know: Just over half of the carjackings in the state took place in Prince George’s County, which recorded 388 of Maryland’s 771 carjackings in 2002.
The records also show that most carjackings occurred late at night — between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. — and victims were usually caught in a store or apartment parking lot. Less often, carjackers faked breakdowns or staged accidents, then carjacked the motorists who stopped to help.
Marc Lipton, a criminal psychologist who runs a private practice in Towson, said carjackers commit the crime for money and a “sense of temporary control over their lives.”
But for victims, Lipton said getting carjacked “has a stronger psychological impact than the loss of other possessions,” even if they are not physically injured.
“The car plays a unique role in our society,” he said. “When they lose their car, it has great symbolic emotional meaning. It removes their sense of mobility and control.”
And the numbers show that carjackers are not particularly choosy about models: Their hit list was stacked with far more grocery-getters than status cars. Fords and Chevys together made up a third of the cars taken. Honda Accords, Toyota Camrys and Ford Tauruses were the hottest models.
Those cars may be stolen more often simply because there are more of them on the street, said Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore.
But that does not explain the carjackers’ regard for the Ford Crown Victoria. Carjackers took 19 of them in 2002.
Nealon said Crown Victorias, as well as Chevrolet Caprices, are prized by those who hope to cop the “cop look” during other crimes.
“People think they are undercover police,” said Nealon.
Among luxury imports, carjackers made off with 17 Lexuses, 14 Mercedes-Benzes, five BMWs and five Land Rovers in 2002, according to the state police reports.
Most carjackers steal cars to sell or for their own transportation, Nealon said, while some keep a stable of nondescript cars parked on side streets. But another type of carjacker targets high-end cars to show off or “profile” on the street, Nealon said.
“It’s, ‘Look at me. I got a Cadillac,'” he said.
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