New Jersey will add more detectives and prosecutors to a nationwide task force investigating car thefts in response to what Acting State Attorney Matthew Platkin called a “major surge” in stolen cars over the past two years.
The initiative, announced Thursday, also included about $ 125,000 of federal funding for the task force. Platkin said it would help pay for the increase in the workforce as well as the resources the task force is using.
In an interview, the attorney general said the jump in thefts – a 22% increase in 2021 from a year earlier and a 31% jump so far in 2022 – is partly due to an increase in violent crime in New Jersey and around the world . nation.
“We know that a significant number of people who steal cars end up using them in violent crimes, especially shooting, elsewhere in the state,” Platkin said. “We are going to use all the resources we have … and we will aggressively try to prosecute those who steal cars.”
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But he and state police chief Colonel Patrick Callahan also asked for public help in preventing the crimes before they occurred.
The vast majority of car thefts are due to the fact that the owner left a keychain in the car, according to state police.
It can be a habit born of convenience – why turn off the car when you’re just running to have a cup of coffee?
But Callahan said forgetting the keychain is a dangerous practice that could have consequences – even for those living in relatively safe, remote suburbs.
“These thieves will travel for an hour or two to steal an SUV for $ 130,000,” Callahan said. “And these high-end cars wouldn’t have been stolen if the keychain hadn’t been in the base.”
Platkin also called car theft an “organized effort.”
“They use social media, identify where there are a significant number of potential targets, and keep trying cars until they find an open one,” Platkin said.
This is especially easy with high-end cars that have side-view mirrors that fold when the keychain is removed from the ignition. Thieves also began skillfully disabling the car’s tracking and navigation systems, Callahan said.
About 14,320 cars were stolen in New Jersey last year, according to the Attorney General’s Office. So far in 2022, 1474 stolen cars have been registered – compared to 1122 at this time last year.
Car thefts have also risen 31 percent in what the state calls the “CorrStat region,” or about 80 cities along Route 21. The area accounts for 63 percent of the state’s total car thefts, the attorney general said.
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According to the Attorney General, the most stolen cars in the state this year are the Honda Accord, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Honda CR-V, BMW X5 and BMW 3-Series.
According to Platkin, thieves also more often targeted high-end cars worth more than $ 50,000. These thefts increased in northeastern New Jersey by 127% from January 31, 2021 to January 31, 2022.
Authorities set up a task force to steal cars in 2015. It currently has 16 members, including representatives from the state Department of Criminal Justice and several local police departments.
In 2021, a task force investigated 33 missing cars, detained 75 people, confiscated five guns and found 130 stolen cars worth more than $ 5.6 million.
Platkin said he did not mean the specific number of members of the task force. But he welcomes help from any law enforcement agency willing to participate.
“The more, the more fun,” he said.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the most important news about those who protect your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.