With car theft rising to record levels in New Jersey, state authorities are putting more resources to address this growing concern.
Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and New Jersey State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick J. Callahan recently announced the expansion of the Auto Theft Task Force by adding additional detectives and prosecutors, as well as bringing on board more police departments from around the state.
In addition, Platkin is making available up to $125,000 in federal Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) funds to bolster resources and capabilities for the Task Force, including law enforcement personnel and equipment purchases. Through increased overtime reimbursements for assigned law enforcement members, the Task Force will be able to expand its scope and coverage.
Public Safety Issue
“Motor vehicle theft is a growing public safety issue that can lead to dangerous and even deadly confrontations between thieves and their victims, bystanders, or law enforcement officers,” said Platkin. “Expanding the Auto Theft Task Force demonstrates our commitment to reversing this trend while advancing our goal of apprehending criminals, recovering vehicles, and preventing violent crime.
In 2021, there were a total of 14,320 vehicles reported stolen in New Jersey, a 22% increase in overall thefts compared to the year before. In addition, State Police analysis reveals a strong nexus between cases involving receiving stolen property—including stolen vehicles—and shootings.
Route 21 Corridor
Last year the State Police reported 3,075 arrests involving receiving stolen property; most auto theft cases in New Jersey are charged as receiving stolen property. Of those arrested for receiving stolen property, 211 were involved in 377 shootings, and 285 were arrested with a firearm.
And the problem is particular and issue in North Jersey. According to data from the New Jersey Regional Operations & Intelligence Center (ROIC), auto theft is up 31% in the state’s CorrStat Region, which represents more than 80 municipalities in northeast New Jersey along the Route 21 corridor, including Newark. This area accounts for 63% of the state’s total motor vehicle thefts.
According to the State Police, the vast majority of auto thefts involve vehicles stolen when the key fob is left in the vehicle or the vehicle is left running. These incidents are commonly referred to as “crimes of opportunity.”
Looking for Key Fob
Thieves may commit several vehicle burglaries before finding a vehicle with a key fob to steal. Criminals use simple techniques— shared among car thieves via social media or by word of mouth—to steal vehicles and disable factory navigation systems.
“Reducing violent crime is a top priority for me, and we will do everything in our power to curb these thefts and keep our neighborhoods and residents safe,” said Platkin. “Meanwhile, we implore residents to not make it easy for car thieves by leaving a key fob in your car—not even for a moment—because your stolen vehicle could be used in the commission of a violent crime.”
Among the tips offered from law enforcement to prevent vehicle theft include:
- Never leave your keys or key fob in your vehicle;
- Do not leave your vehicle running while unattended;
- Park your car in well-lit areas;
- Ensure all windows are closed;
- Hide your valuables; and
- Make sure all doors are locked.
“The public has to realize this is a very real and very dangerous problem that has implications far beyond the initial theft of a vehicle and carries into the realm of violent crime,” said Col. Patrick J. Callahan of the New Jersey State Police. “The technological resources at our disposal have allowed us to identify key trends and target offenders but to avoid becoming a statistic yourself, secure your vehicle and take the key or key fob with you.”
Task Force Expansion
The New Jersey State Police established the Auto Theft Task Force. Since its inception in 2015, the task force has continued to expand and is currently comprised of 16 members, six of which are Task Force Officers (TFOs) from six partnering agencies, including the Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) and the Westfield, Warren, Bernards, Middletown, and Paramus police departments.
The task force is currently in the process of expanding to include new assets, with the potential to expand further if circumstances warrant. In 2021, the Auto Theft Task Force conducted 33 vehicle theft investigations, made 75 arrests, seized five firearms, and recovered 130 stolen vehicles valued at approximately $5.7 million.
Law enforcement’s average time to recovery of stolen vehicles has been improving since 2016, which in part may be due to the deployment of license plate recognition technology and increased data sharing among law enforcement.
Data from State Police shows the time to recovery in 2016 was an average of 45 days. In 2021, the average time to recovery was significantly cut to 13 days, with 70% of vehicles being recovered within nine days or less.
The top vehicles stolen statewide so far this year include Honda Accord, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Honda CR-V, BMW X5, and BMW 3-Series. Thefts of high-end vehicles (newer vehicles with sticker prices of $50,000 and up) have risen dramatically over the past year. In the CorrStat region, thefts of high-end motor vehicles increased 127% from January 31, 2021 to January 31, 2022.
Year-to-date thefts of the following high-end vehicles have increased significantly compared to 2021; BMW X6, Land Rover Range Sport, Audi Q5, and BMW X3.