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Emanuel, lawmakers propose change to carjacking laws

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State and local lawmakers are pushing for a change in Illinois law, to hold convicted carjackers responsible for their crimes. (WLS)

State and local lawmakers are pushing for a change in Illinois law, to hold convicted carjackers responsible for their crimes. This comes after a recent spike in carjackings in Chicago.

Backed by a group of state lawmakers, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to put the brakes on the surge of carjackings with a new law that closes a loophole, which police say has let would-be criminals get away almost scott free.

"You will be held accountable by the legal system. Whether you're 14 or 40," said Mayor Emanuel.

The proposed legislation doesn't toughen the three to seven year sentence for motor vehicle theft, but instead changes the requirements for the crime.

Under the current law, a person in possession of a stolen vehicle has to know it has been stolen or converted in order to be charged with felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle.

City officials said it is hard to prove, meaning offenders often escape with just a misdemeanor charge, probation and immediate release.

"Right now it protects the offender and their accomplices," said Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson.

The new bill, which is modeled after a California law that's been on the books since the 1960s would only require that a person possess a vehicle without the consent of the owner to be charged with a crime.

"The change will shift the standard to whether the rightful owner of the vehicle provided consent to the individual caught driving reported stolen vehicle," said State Sen. Tony Munoz (D-Chicago).

According to data from the city, since January 2017 there have been 4,240 vehicle thefts in Chicago. Of those, 3,139, or 74 percent, were misdemeanor trespassing while 879, or only 21 percent, were charged as felony possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The remaining charges fell into other categories.

"I had a resident before she even had a chance to turn off her car and put it in park, she already had a gun to her head," said State Rep. Jaime Andrade (D-Chicago).

The carjacking bill comes after the formation of joint task force this month.

City officials said they have seen a spike in carjackings on the West Side, along with significant increases downtown and on the North Side.

Police said they're also planning on stepping up the use of license plate recognition cameras installed on squad cars to help identify stolen vehicles.

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