LAWRENCE, Ind. — Eight teens between the ages of 14 and 15 were taken into custody in connection to crimes that crossed city boundaries this week.
According to the Lawrence Police Department, officers received a report of a carjacking at the Harrison Point Apartments off of N. Post Road around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Lawrence police said a man was approached in the parking lot of the apartment complex by four people, who then allegedly carjacked his vehicle and took off in it. One person was reportedly armed with a gun during the incident.
According to police, the vehicle that dropped the four people at the scene of the carjacking, was reported stolen earlier in the day from the area of 38th St. and N. Post Rd. in Indianapolis.
“That vehicle was left running and unattended when it was stolen,” said LPD Deputy Chief, Gary Woodruff. “It’s not at all unusual. When you have a vehicle stolen like that, the likelihood is, it’s going to be used for another crime.”
After both vehicles fled from the apartment complex following the carjacking, Woodruff said it was only minutes before the carjacked vehicle was spotted near the Castleton Mall, which is about nine miles from the site of the carjacking.
“A very alert IMPD officer located the carjacked vehicle from Lawrence in Castleton,” said Woodruff.
After a short vehicle and foot chase, Woodruff said five teens were taken into custody by the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
It wasn’t long before the vehicle reported stolen out of Indianapolis, that was also spotted at the scene of the carjacking, made its way through the same area and was spotted by officers.
“As Lawrence and IMPD officers were investigating that apprehension and following up with it, the vehicle that have been used in the carjacking here in Lawrence, that had been stolen earlier that morning, officers spotted it as it drove past the scene,” said Woodruff.
After a short vehicle and foot chase with the occupants of the reportedly stolen vehicle, Woodruff said three more teens were taken into custody without incident.
“Absolutely nothing good comes when you have 14 and 15-year-olds carrying guns committing, you know, alleged felony crimes,” said Woodruff.
Police said eight teens, including three 14-year-olds and five 15-year-olds, were taken to the juvenile detention center.
The four teens that were allegedly directly involved in carjacking the victim face the most serious charges.
Woodruff said, “Four of them were charged with Level 3 Felony armed robbery and then the other ones with a variety of misdemeanor and lower felony charges from unauthorized entry into a stolen vehicle to fleeing law enforcement.”
There were no guns recovered as the teens were taken into custody, LPD confirmed.
According to Woodruff, the quick arrests were a combination of communication between Lawrence police and IMPD, witness cooperation and technology that helped officers gather more details during the investigation.
“The bottom line is you have alert officers and the ability to communicate across those jurisdictional lines very rapidly, that’s huge. That can’t be underestimated,” he added.
Police said these types of crimes should be a matter of concern for the entire community.
“This is not just a Lawrence issue, and Indianapolis issue, this is a societal issue,” he said. “Behind each of those numbers, it shouldn’t be lost that they’re human lives — they’re human beings. They’re people that are being placed in fear for nothing more than trying to get in and out of their vehicle,” Woodruff said.
Fortunately there were no injuries to the victim, any civilians or officers during the course of Wednesday’s events, but police want to remind that carjackings are a violent crime that can put not only the lives of victims but suspects in danger.
“The victims in any violent crime, it’s life-changing for them and potentially life-changing for the people committing the crime as well. If things don’t go well if things go badly that can be life altering and nobody wants to see that,” said Woodruff.
“This is more than simple thrill seeking. It may seem like that,” he said.
Efforts to combat carjackings across Marion County
This summer, IMPD announced the creation of a task force in response to an increase in reported carjackings across Marion County in 2021 compared to 2020.
“We noticed a pretty significant increase in carjackings, and we were trying to think of what we could do and creating the task force is going to help us identify, locate and arrest these individuals,” said IMPD Robbery Branch Lieutenant Pauli Irwin.
“A lot of times these individuals are involved in so many other crimes that by getting them in the carjackings, we might be able to solve some other crimes because they use those cars in robberies, burglaries, home invasions, other business robberies, so forth, and that’s why we wanted to get this task force together.”
From Jan. 1 through Oct. 16, 2021, IMPD said there have been 194 carjacking incidents logged. In that same time period during 2020, IMPD logged a total of 131 carjackings.
Overall, robberies in general are down 13%, according to IMPD, however, carjackings are up around 49% in the first ten months of this year compared to last year.
When it comes to the suspects being arrested in connection to carjackings across the city, Irwin said most of them are in fact, juveniles.
“What’s even weirder, a lot of those juveniles have robbery and carjacking priors,” said Irwin. “So they already have the priors and we’re arresting them again for these carjackings.”
It’s not uncommon that police see repeat offenders committing these crimes, said Irwin.
“We arrest them in the carjackings, they get back out again and do it again,” she said. “Our guys who are working these cases get a little frustrated because they’re arresting people, arresting people, and then they go to jail for a little bit, they’re back out and it’s the same people.”
One of the main purposes of IMPD’s Carjacking Task Force is to find those individuals and address the problem before it spirals into something even more serious than it already is.
“Carjacking can be violent, but these are used in shootings — these cars that they are taking are used in shootings, business robberies, home invasions,” said Irwin. “They need a ride to get there because they’re kids.”
The task force consists of IMPD Robbery Branch detectives, FBI Violent Crimes Task Force officers and Special Agents with the FBI.
Part of the advantage of the task force is the ability to present some of the cases investigated to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where if convicted, a person could face much harsher penalties, including a federal prison sentence with the potential to be much lengthier than if convicted on state-level charges.
According to IMPD, suspects arrested for robbery as a result of carjacking could have their case presented to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for review. As a result, a person could be charged for being in violation of federal law under Title 18 of the United States Code 2119.
Since the task force launched in Aug., IMPD said there have been seven arrests. They’ve also had 26 cases cleared by arrests, including auto thefts, business robberies, street robberies, home invasions and burglaries.
“They’ve recovered five firearms, six vehicles, they’ve done 12 search warrants, and recovered about $7,800 in cash that’s been seized,” said Irwin.
The task force has two cases that are pending review that could result in federal charges, as well as several open cases that are under investigation.
Although this task force is newer, it’s not the first time that IMPD and the FBI have teamed up to address carjackings in Indianapolis.
Back in March, IMPD detectives and the FBI arrested three juveniles suspected of committing a series of armed robberies and carjackings on the city’s west side. Police said the suspects were believed to be responsible for at least eight cases involving armed robberies of food and delivery drivers, with many of the crimes occurring near the Astoria Park Apartments on the city’s west side.
IMPD also announced the arrest of five total juveniles in separate armed robbery and carjacking cases just one month prior, in February 2021. The arrests in this case were credited to being the result of a collaborative effort between IMPD Southeast District middle shift officers, the FBI Violent Crimes Task Force, IMPD SWAT officers, and both IMPD K-9 officers and Southport officers.
IMPD said carjacking is a crime of opportunity and as we approach the colder winter months where people are quicker to start their cars and leave them unattended, there are several steps you can take to help protect yourself.
“Pay attention when you’re sitting in a parking lot or you’re pulling up to your house or apartment complex or the business you’re about to go in,” said Irwin. “Don’t leave your car running, unlocked, with the keys in it. People do it all the time. I see it all the time.”
“Your car will get taken and even though you might not be out there, you’re still gonna lose your car and then if you encounter the person, it could turn violent,” said Irwin.
Other suggestions include parking in well-lit areas, avoid driving alone at night, when you’re stopped at intersections remain vigilant and look around.
“People standing at a corner can be at your window very quickly,” added Irwin.
She also wants to remind people to comply if you ever find yourself in a situation where you may encounter a carjacker.
“Your car is not worth your life and a lot of these people have guns and they will shoot you. It’s not worth getting injured. You have car insurance, you can get that car back. We recover the cars. Sometimes they take them just to go a few blocks,” said Irwin. “Just back up, let them take the car, it’s not worth your life. We’ve just had too much violence in this city and it’s not worth dying over.”
Helping teens and preventing involvement in violent crimes on front-end
Lawrence Police said it’s important for teens to be involved in programs that help guide them on the right path.
“Lets play basketball, lets find some other productive things to do as opposed to resorting to committing alleged armed felonies,” said Woodruff.
Organizations like VOICES Corp. are working to help empower youth to become successful contributors in the community and help affirm their leadership skills. They also work with youth and help provide intervention services to youth and families in crisis.
“For me it’s, you know, looking beyond the headline,” said Brandon Randall, director of engagement for VOICES Corp.
“Looking at these young people who are involved in these activities still being able to find a space to affirm them that they have leadership skills and that they do have the potential to make a positive contribution,” said Randall.
Just because youth have had previous run-ins with the law or have even been arrested, Randall said it doesn’t negate their ability to contribute something positive or influential.
“Also, it doesn’t sum up their humanity. A lot of times we look at young people who have been arrested and we charge them with that one occasion and attribute that to their entirety,” Randall continued, “we don’t do that here. We look at the situation as a learning situation, while holding them accountable, but also making sure that they know there’s so much more for them to accomplish.”
Randall said their organization’s leadership program originally started out working with their day reporting students, who are all sent to them by juvenile probation and sometimes DCS.
He said when you get many kids into an environment that fosters compassion and empathy, it is easier to help re-route their skill set away from criminal behavior or delinquency, and it’s something their organization focuses on.
“The research is very clear that in order to interrupt the trajectory of delinquency and even transitioning into adult criminal behavior, caring and consistent adults and invested programming is a proven way to kind of decrease or interrupt that likelihood that young people are going to get in trouble,” said Randall.
“We value not only getting them and their families into their programming, but it’s an ongoing communication.”
He said this helps reinforce positive, healthy relationships and that if people are attached to those relationships, they will be less likely to get involved in criminal behavior, more likely to have higher self-confidence and self-esteem, and that the recidivism rate is reduced or zeroed out.
“We just encourage other people, especially parents and other community leaders to look at that importance of relationship building at an individual level while being consistent across the board.”
Randall is a part of programming at the jail, working with young people that are being held for crimes like homicide and armed robberies.
“I just look at every kid as a blank slate as far as what they may have done but recognizing that they bring gifts and talents to them, regardless of the poor choices that they made,” said Randall.