By Vin Gopal – Last year, 14,320 vehicles were reported stolen in New Jersey.
That was a 22 percent increase over 2020, when car thefts also rose over the previous year, according to the State Police, and more than 9,000 cars were stolen through July of this year. Law enforcement sources say the number could reach 17,000 by year end. It’s part of a national trend that the National Insurance Crime Bureau describes as “unprecedented.”
In Monmouth County thieves stole 158 vehicles during the first three months of this year, and there was an increase of over 110 percent of high-end auto thefts, according to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.
The spike in car theft is even more alarming when you consider that the thefts are being carried out by gang-led auto theft rings that are recruiting children and teens to carry out the crimes. These are not crimes of convenience. The car theft rings are organized, they are professional criminals, and they operate with sophistication and speed. Too often the stolen cars wind up being used in crimes.
That’s why I’ve partnered with Assemblywoman Shanique Speight of Newark to sponsor two bills that would strengthen penalties for car thieves and promote prevention efforts across the state. The car theft rings also strain law enforcement resources.
The first of the two bills, which I introduced in August, would establish an Automobile Theft Prevention Authority and appropriate $2 million to operate it. Several states have already successfully implemented Automobile Theft Prevention Authorities, which convene law enforcement officers, prosecutors, insurance representatives, and at-large members to discuss best practices, create rules, and coordinate statewide prevention efforts. States with Automobile Theft Prevention Authorities report that they have helped create flexibility for law enforcement resources and generate a faster, targeted response to trends and developments in car thefts.
The second bill would increase penalties for juveniles and adults convicted of auto theft and related crimes, as well as stiffen penalties on adults who hire juveniles to commit the crime. Teens are attractive participants to organized auto rings because they are less likely to serve jail time when they are arrested. I share Assemblywoman Speight’s confidence that we can strengthen penalties and provide the necessary rehabilitative pathways for juveniles who are involved in automobile thefts to turn their lives around, while also discouraging adults from recruiting teens into auto theft rings.
Residents also need to act to reduce car thefts by making it harder for the thieves to steal their cars. Often, the stolen cars are keyless-entry models whose owners leave the fob that opens the door and allows the car to start in the car. It’s almost like asking a thief to steal it. Some keyless entry cars even tell thieves the fob is inside because the side mirrors automatically fold in when the fob is removed from the vehicle.
In the meantime, let’s all make sure we are taking precautions like locking our cars, never leaving them running and not leaving anything visible inside that might tempt a thief. I urge parents to stress these precautions if they have new drivers at home. Working together with law enforcement and remaining vigilant will go a long way to help keep our cars where we leave them and make our state safer from auto theft.