CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's a thrill - that's what the feds are saying the carjackings terrorizing Chicago amount to for those who are committing them - and 80 percent of those charged are kids.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx revealed that statistic Monday night in a virtual townhall. CBS 2's Jermont Terry listened in.
One point of consensus for the panel at the townhall was that we cannot just police ourselves out of the problem – and added that many of the teen carjackers don't realize the seriousness of their actions.
Authorities admit they are outnumbered. They say most of the youngsters don't realize carjacking is a felony - whether the offender is a juvenile or adult.
Yet Foxx pointed out connecting teens in a stolen car to an actual carjacking makes a difference in what they are charged with.
The troubling spike keeps climbing. January ended with more than 150 carjackings.
"There's at least five carjackings every day," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Illinois).
Rush gathered U.S. Attorney John Lausch and the State's Attorney Foxx, along with Chicago Police and community activists, for a virtual townhall to address the cry to get a handle on the carjacking epidemic.
"Local law enforcement - even combined with other departments and federal law enforcement - is outnumbered," said FBI Chicago Special-Agent-in-Charge Emmerson Buie. "And that is not an excuse. That's a reality."
The FBI stressed that nationwide, other major cities are seeing the same problem. Yet in Chicago, youngsters – mostly 15- to 20-year-olds, but some as young as 12 – are holding the guns and stealing cars.
"There aren't people that are directing these young kids to do this. These are young kids who are have lost their way," Lausch said, "and they are committing these crimes of opportunity for the thrill of it."
It is a crime that many in the community believe crooks aren't worried about.
"They do not fear getting caught, or if caught, they don't fear the consequences of potentially getting caught," Lausch said.
If a teen is charged with a carjacking, they could stay in juvenile detention until their 21st birthday.
Foxx has taken heat for being soft on juvenile offenders. But she said her office filed charges in 80 percent of juvenile cases – and stresses it is not about locking the kids up.
"The reason that we have to take this approach, particularly with young people, is we don't want them hardened to a system that they go and become better criminals, when you just do the punishment without figuring out all this stuff that's happening around them," Foxx said.
Steven De Joie is from the Community First State Pump Initiative, and has been organizing an effort to place volunteers at gas stations throughout the city to deter carjackers. He told Foxx, "I think what the community really wants to see an aggressive, robust respond to this issue now."
"And I would agree with that," Foxx said. "And I think one of the things I want to go back to – we can only prosecute once an arrest has been made."
Foxx emphasized again that when police arrest someone riding in a stolen vehicle, officers have to be able to link that person to a carjacking. Otherwise, the defendant can only be charged with possession of a stolen vehicle – which is a lower-level felony and can lead a juvenile to be eligible to probation.
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