Six people have been arrested in relation to a recent wave of carjacking, kidnappings and robberies using ride-hailing apps, the Baltimore Police Commissioner announced Wednesday.
Commissioner Michael Harrison said officers have arrested six people, ages 15 to 18, in connection with 12 ride-hailing app robbery and carjacking cases. Detectives have identified 39 total cases since the beginning of November in which suspects used ride-hailing apps to rob drivers, steal their cars and pick up riders.
Suspects work in pairs or groups to kidnap both drivers and riders and force them to withdraw money from multiple ATMs or electronically transfer money by Cash App.
All but two of the six people have been arrested previously on robbery and carjacking charges, Harrison said. Police also filed two warrants for the arrest of a seventh suspect.
Harrison said the first ride-hailing robbery occurred Nov. 11. At least one victim was raped in a November carjacking.
“I can say many of these people, if not all of them, have been severely traumatized,” Harrison said in a news conference alongside FBI officials. “And not just the trauma of the carjacking itself but the trauma of while you are providing a service and performing a job that this happened.”
City police and Baltimore County Police last week announced the arrest of nine people — boys, girls and young adults — for alleged carjacking. Detectives are determining whether those nine people were involved in using ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft to steal the cars.
The crimes are ongoing. Suspects attempted to carjack a driver Tuesday, Lt. Thomas Jackson said at the news conference.
Harrison said additional suspects could be arrested as the investigation moves forward.
Ride-hailing carjackings have occurred across the city and in Baltimore County, but the majority have occurred in the Southern District.
Other U.S. cities also are experiencing carjackings using ride-hailing apps, said Lindsey Eldridge, a police spokesperson.
Shayne Buchwald, an FBI spokesperson, advised riders to stand back when their car arrives and take time to see who is inside before getting in. Riders are being snatched off the curb, Buchwald said.
“If you can wait with someone, that’d be great, or you can wait against a building for your ride-share,” Buchwald said.
A spokesperson for Uber said the company sent safety tips to drivers and riders in the Baltimore area and is working closely with police.
“The reported attacks are horrifying,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Customers are encouraged to cancel trips if they feel unsafe.
A Lyft spokesperson called the crimes “deeply troubling” and said the company reaches out to impacted drivers after carjackings. Lyft is also working with law enforcement to help with their investigation and has determined the majority of people who used the app to commit these crimes used an anonymous payment method such as prepaid cards, gift cards, Venmo or PayPal.
In certain markets, Lyft users must now provide a second form of identification to use anonymous payment methods.
Harrison touted his officers’ swift arrests, noting that two handguns also have been recovered. One handgun was seized in a car, and the other was recovered when executing a search warrant.
Baltimore Police seized 2,200 guns and made 1,400 arrests for illegal gun possession this year, Harrison said.
Baltimore Police shared a flyer telling ride-hailing app users to check the car and driver’s information before getting into a vehicle, including details like the make and model, color and license plate. If there are too many people in the car or something else doesn’t seem right, customers should not get into the vehicle, police advised. Drivers should use caution when picking up fares for three or more people after dark, police warned.
“We are actively and aggressively looking for and arresting people who are committing these heinous crimes,” Harrison said. He asked for the public’s help identifying suspects so police “can stop it altogether.”