A DoorDash driver named Jeffrey Fang was returning to his minivan in San Francisco after completing a delivery last week when he noticed a stranger in his car. After a struggle, he told a local news outlet, another person, an accomplice, got behind the wheel and drove away. Fang’s children, 4 and 1, were still buckled inside.
Four hours later, after a frantic search by neighbors and law enforcement, the minivan was found in another San Francisco neighborhood, with the children safe and unhurt inside.
Fang later told The New York Times that it was hard to find and pay for childcare during the peak dinnertime delivery hours, so he would often bring the kids along with him as he worked for DoorDash. “Most of the people in the gig economy, we’re trying to make it,” he said. “We’re doing what we can, but the odds are stacked against us. It’s not easy. Oftentimes, we have to balance between impossible choices.”
Similar horrifying scenes have played out elsewhere. In January, two Washington, DC, children were kidnapped during a carjacking when a parent left the vehicle to make an Uber Eats delivery. They were also found unhurt. Also in DC, a carjacker who had swiped the vehicle of an Uber Eats driver struck the delivery worker plus a woman and two children on a nearby sidewalk as he tried to drive away.
Across the country, local police departments say carjackings are up. So, too, are home deliveries amid the Covid pandemic. DoorDash announced its first quarterly profit, and Instacart, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Amazon have all reported record business.
Inevitably, some of those carjackings involve delivery drivers, who sometimes leave their cars running while dropping off food or packages. “We’re seeing carjackings and thefts on the rise nationwide,” Danielle McDonald, a law enforcement liaison for Uber, told reporters at a DC press conference this week.
No one collects national data on carjackings; local departments often group carjackings with other auto thefts or violent crimes. Grubhub and Uber say they keep track of crimes targeting drivers, but they declined to share any details. Exact numbers, then, are difficult to come by.
But the local figures are dispiriting. Minneapolis police reported 405 carjackings in 2020, more than three times the number in 2019. Police in Louisville, Kentucky, said they saw 30 carjackings in July, compared with four in the same month a year earlier. In Washington, DC, last year, carjackings rose 143 percent, according to local law enforcement. Neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, issued a warning in January about an uptick in carjackings, many involving people who had left their vehicles running while picking up food deliveries. Oakland, California, police say carjackings rose 38 percent in the city last year, and victims included “delivery and ride-share drivers.”
Chicago carjackings rose by 135 percent in 2020, to 1,415. The Chicago Independent Drivers Guild, an advocacy group for ride-hail drivers, says dozens of Chicago ride-hail and delivery workers have been victimized by carjackers in the last few months. “We are driving around with targets on our backs,” Kevin Nelson, an IDG organizer and ride-hail driver, said in a statement.
Delivery workers are particularly vulnerable to carjacking, and especially right now, says Michael Cherbonneau, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of North Florida who studies street crime. “They’re not from the area, they may not be familiar with it, they may leave their car running to go to drop off packages,” he says. The interruption of routines during the pandemic might make delivery drivers more vulnerable too. There may be fewer people on the street. And many people are wearing masks, so drivers are less alert when a masked person approaches them, giving a potential thief the element of surprise.
This srticle was first published on WIRED