LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The district's top federal prosecutor has a message for anyone thinking about committing an armed carjacking.

"There is a significant likelihood that you'll serve time in federal prison."

Those words came from U.S. Attorney Russell Coleman during a news conference on Aug. 13 announcing the formation of a federal task force to investigate a rash of recent carjackings across Louisville.

The news conference was attended by representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office, the FBI, the Louisville Metro Police Department, the Kentucky State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Coleman called the new task force a "proactive effort" to prevent a recent spike of carjackings. 

For context, he said there had been over 30 carjackings this past July alone, contrasted with only four in July 2019. He said those crimes have been happening in neighborhoods all over Jefferson County.

Coleman said the carjackings are taking place against a backdrop of rising violent crime. He cited a total of 95 homicides so far this year, along with with more than 300 shootings.

"Our fear is that overlay of carjackings will ultimately increase some of those numbers," he said. 

Robert Brown Jr., special agent in charge for the FBI, echoed Coleman's concerns.

"In the recent days the violence we've seen here jeopardizes the rights of all citizens -- including peaceful protesters," Brown said. "It has to stop."

Officials cited a number of possible reasons for why crime is on the rise. 

Acting LMPD Chief Robert Schroeder admitted that the police are stretched thin.

"Our staffing is challenged at this time," he said, adding that, "a number of officers have left the department."

Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine admitted that the court docket had been disrupted due to COVID-19 and said that some might be using "an uncertainty of when cases go to court" as an incentive to commit crime now. But he added that prosecutors had been identifying cases that were felonies and moving them forward.

But, "people have to be willing to come forward and testify," he said.

Citing his religious faith, Coleman mentioned Romans 8:29, a passage that posits that God, "works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Coleman said one good thing that could come from the violence is that "we can start paying attention to neighborhoods" that have suffered under violent crime for decades.

In a somber moment, Coleman encouraged people who haven't been to downtown Louisville recently to spend and afternoon driving its streets.

"There's a new color you see in downtown Louisville -- and it's brown," he said, noting that it was the color of the boarded up windows of businesses. "There's a heaviness in downtown Louisville now."

Coleman reiterated the First Amendment of peaceful protesters to demonstrate without fear. But he cautioned criminals who he said were "exploiting lawful protesters" through looting or carjacking.

"We will seek you out, we will prosecute you, and we will send you to federal prison," he said. 

LMPD Seventh Division Maj. Emily McKinley told WDRB in early August that many carjackings are crimes of opportunity by young kids and young adults. She said some of the carjackings in Louisville may be gang related.

"We would just recommend everybody -- elderly, young and old -- make sure you are aware of their surroundings and look out for your neighbors," McKinley said.

Tips to avoid carjackings, according to the Insurance Information Institute:

  • Always have your mobile phone handy — and charged.
  • Avoid being alone in your vehicle in certain areas, such as high crime neighborhoods, isolated roads and intersections and desolate areas of parking lots.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Pay special attention to people who seem to be lurking or cars that suspiciously follow you into driveways. Call 911 and use your key fob or other car alarm if you feel a threat.
  • Be wary of how carjackers lure victims. These include bumping your car, pretending to be stranded motorists or flashing their lights as if there were something wrong with your car. In each of these scenarios, you might be tempted to pull over -- only to have your car taken. Stay inside with the windows shut and the door locked and, if you feel a threat, drive to the nearest police or fire station.
  • Practice safe parking. Stick to well-lit areas. If you have any doubts about where you parked after the fact, find a security guard to accompany you to your vehicle.
  • Don't sit in your car with the door unlocked or the windows rolled down.
  • Don’t stop at isolated ATMs, which might put you and your bank accounts as well as your car in danger.

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