Auto thefts are on the rise in New Jersey and some stolen cars are being used in shootings, AG says

Auto thefts are on the rise in New Jersey and some stolen cars are being used in shootings, AG says

State authorities are stepping up law enforcement amid a spike in auto thefts in New Jersey, with the state’s top law enforcement official warning that a stolen car in your driveway today could be used in a shootout tomorrow.

Auto theft is “not an urban problem or a suburban problem,” Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin told NJ Advance Media.

“It’s a statewide problem, and it’s driving violent crime.”

Last year, 14,320 vehicles were reported stolen in New Jersey, an increase of 22% from 2020, which also saw an increase from the previous year, according to police data from . State. It’s part of a national trend, the National Insurance Crime Bureau called “unprecedented.”

In response, state authorities said they were expanding a multi-agency auto theft task force that has been operating in New Jersey since 2015.

Currently made up of 16 officers across six agencies, the attorney general said he is actively recruiting officers and agencies to join them, allocating up to $125,000 in federal grants to pay for overtime reimbursements and labor costs. ‘equipment. Last year, the task force recovered 130 stolen vehicles worth nearly $5.7 million.

But the authorities are also issuing a simple appeal to car owners.

Lock your doors.

In a “vast majority” of thefts last year, police say, the cars were stolen because the owner left the key fob inside.

“Most cars now have push-start technology which makes it harder to steal the car unless the key fob is left inside – in which case it’s very, very easy to steal,” Platkin said.

“No one is immune to this,” Col. Patrick Callahan, the state police superintendent, said in an interview.

” It does not matter. Subjects involved in this type of crime are willing to drive an hour to steal your car.

This momentary lapse in judgment by car owners can have ripple effects, officials have warned. Increasingly, these same stolen cars are linked to gang violence and fatal shootings. “Half an hour later, it could potentially be used in a homicide,” Callahan said.

According to state police, there is a “close connection” between suspects arrested for receiving stolen property – the most common charge in New Jersey auto thefts – and gun violence.

These thefts are often not isolated crimes, but the work of organized networks that scour neighborhoods for unlocked cars to steal, then use the stolen vehicle to cover their tracks in a host of other crimes, including shooting on members of rival gangs, authorities said.

In recent weeks, law enforcement across the country has been sounding the alarm over a spike in car thefts.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, blamed a new policy from the attorney general’s office limiting the use of high-speed chases by police, which went into effect last year, calling for it to be rescinded .

“Criminals steal cars to hide their identities while committing other offenses and now cops can’t chase a possible stolen vehicle,” Bergen said. “It’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

This directive was put in place following a Asbury Park Press survey finding high-speed chases led to few arrests and many injuries.

Platkin, the acting attorney general, said state authorities “have no data to suggest” a connection between the pursuit policy, which now requires an imminent public threat for cops to pursue a suspect in a car, and the increase in car thefts.

“High-speed chases are a very dangerous law enforcement tool,” Platkin said. “The policy doesn’t eliminate them, it just restricts when they can be used.”

Still, he acknowledged his office was “reviewing the policy” and considering further revisions.

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