🚘 Car thefts in New Jersey are up this year compared to 2021

📊 The 'good news' is that the thefts appear to be leveling off

👀 Republican lawmaker says citizens have become more vigilant

TRENTON – Car theft totals have begun to recede in New Jersey, still up 9% through November compared to the same point in 2021 but dropping since August when compared to the same months one year earlier.

There were 14,322 car thefts reported in New Jersey over the first 11 months of the year, 41% above the record low in 2020, New Jersey State Police Maj. Lawrence Williams told the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee at a hearing Monday.

That includes 3,903 thefts of high-end cars valued at $30,000 or more, up from 3,183 through the first 11 months of 2021 and 2,186 in the same period in 2020.

“Bad news, there’s a lot of auto theft,” Williams said. “Good news is what we’re doing is reducing the amount of auto thefts.”

“Since August, we’re either even or down from last year’s numbers which – they weren’t good numbers, but going from up 34% and up 51% to down 15%, down 12%, down 14% from last year is a good thing,” he said.

Williams credited better information sharing among police agencies about theft rings and the benefit of license plate reading technology.

Citizens more vigilant?

Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, disagreed that those are the causes.

“Any drop in the thefts certainly I think is coming from citizens themselves,” Scharfenberger said. “We have citizens who are forming citizens watch groups, social media groups and keeping an eye, so they post pictures of suspicious vehicles, out-of-state plates. Maybe they’re checking car doors. So if there’s any drop, I think it’s the result of people being more aware.”

The Assembly panel Monday endorsed four bills aimed at helping reverse the increase in car thefts, focusing on catalytic converters, carjacking, using a motor vehicle master key and extended sentences for repeat offenders.

Deputy Attorney General Joseph Giordano said a provision in the one the bill creating separate crimes specific to car theft and receiving a stolen car will be big help in bail hearings, as important information can get lost when charges refer to theft generically.

“Now when we see this prior history of stolen cars, I can go, ‘Judge, this is their fourth stolen car in the past four years. When’s it going to stop?’ And clearly, if this person gets back out, they’re going to steal another car,” Giordano said.

Alexander Shalom, a senior supervising attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said any changes should be data-driven and focused on what’s effective.

“There is simply not a person out there considering whether to steal a car who says, ‘Oh, well right now the fine is $1,000, but ooh, if it’s going to be $2,000, I’m not going to do that.’ It’s not what incentivizes people. It disproportionately targets people with less money,” Shalom said.

One of the bills endorsed Monday creates a penalty of up to $15,000 for carjacking and adds $500 to $1,000 to existing fines for stealing a car.

Rob Nixon, a lobbyist for the New Jersey State PBA, said the spike in car thefts coincided with a period of strong anti-law enforcement sentiment, which he said prompted a lot of senior officers to retire.

“At that time when you were seeing a reduction in force, you were also seeing a reduction in proactive policing, where officers were aggressively going out there and addressing these issues at the neighborhood level,” Nixon said. “It became very unpopular to do so, so their natural reaction was, ‘I’m not risking my job over pulling somebody over. It is what it is.’”

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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