7 On Your Side breaks down how to protect yourself from car thieves terrorizing local communities

Kristin Thorne Image
Monday, June 12, 2023
7 On Your Side breaks down how to protect yourself from car theft
New Jersey State Police now heads up an auto theft task force partnering with local departments to crack down on auto thefts.

Although law enforcement in our area is not required to track how many stolen cars are used to commit other crimes, they said the majority are and they're asking car owners to lock their cars day and night in order to cut down on the proliferation of stolen vehicles and improve the safety of the entire community.

"It's not just a stolen car," New Jersey State Police Detective Sergeant Cory Rodriguez said. "It's what the cars are used in after they're stolen that makes the biggest impact on people."

Rodriguez said many people driving stolen cars go on to sell drugs, guns or commit homicides. He said the thieves are also putting people's lives in jeopardy by the dangerous way in which they often drive the cars.

"They're not obeying the speed limit, they're driving over sidewalks, they're taking speed bumps as fast as they can, they're driving recklessly," he said.

Throughout the last year, Eyewitness News has covered many incidents in which thieves driving stolen cars almost killed innocent people, including in North Caldwell where someone driving a stolen car caused the car to go airborne and landed on top of a house and in Bergen County where teens driving recklessly in a stolen Maserati led police on a high speed pursuit through several towns.

Before the teens stole the Maserati, police believe they stole Monica's Kia out of her driveway, which is also located in Bergen County.

"The police officer told me they're using cars like mine to go steal those other cars, they all pile in," Monica said. "The thought of my car being involved in any crime bothers me."

Rodriguez said stolen cars in our area are sold for thousands of dollars in West Africa, specifically Nigeria, Togo and Ghana.

"The quickest way to get a car from the United States to West Africa are going through the ports of New York and New Jersey," he said.

New Jersey State Police now heads up an auto theft task force partnering with local departments to crack down on auto thefts.

"There's never been more collaboration or information sharing in the history of auto theft investigations than there is right now and we continuously get better," Rodriguez said.

According to state police, in January 2023, 341 fewer cars were stolen in New Jersey only 1,176 compared to January 2022 when 1,517 were stolen.

"The criminals get smarter, we get smarter," Rodriguez said. "Where the thieves think that they're getting away with everything, we're right on their tail."

New Jersey Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Middletown) has proposed a package of legislative bills to increase penalties3 not only for people who steal cars , but for people who use teens to do it .

One of the bills would also increase penalties for those who commit motor vehicle theft and if, during the course of the theft, the vehicle is operated in a way that creates risk of injury or property damage.

"Right now, our communities don't feel safe and that's a big problem," Flynn said.

Flynn said she gets calls to her office constantly from constituents worried about the number of car thefts in their neighborhoods.

"People moved to communities like here because they didn't want to worry about it and now they have to worry about it," she said.

Flynn said she has also heard from police that teenagers who are arrested for stealing cars, get released from police custody and go on to steal cars over and over again.

One of Flynn's bills allows judges to order ankle bracelet monitoring for teenagers arrested for stealing cars.

Police are encouraging residents to lock their cars at night and during the day to stop the thieves.

"We just don't have enough officers to put one in everybody's driveway, so people need to take some responsibility and protect themselves," Rodriguez said. "By protecting themselves, they're also going to protect their neighbor. If thieves come to your neighborhood and they strike out in your whole neighborhood, they'll probably not going to come back."

He said people should lock their homes as well at all times as thieves are now going into unlocked homes to find people's keys.

Rodriguez said you should also take your garage door opener out of your car at night, even if your car is locked in the driveway.

"Your garage door opener is a key to your house," he said.

He also said people should not program their home address into their car's GPS because the thieves can use it to get right to your home.

You can also contact Kristin Thorne directly

Facebook: KristinThorne.WABC

Twitter: @KristinThorne