NJ.com: After 14K vehicles were stolen in N.J., call goes out for help in busting organized car theft rings.

NJ.com: After 14K vehicles were stolen in N.J., call goes out for help in busting organized car theft rings

 

By Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

For Matthew Mazon of Franklin Lakes, his BMW was literally gone in less than 60 seconds when he returned to his driveway after unloading packages from it.

His first thought was a neighbor was pranking him, but after he called police and called BMW assist in track the car, it was shown to be in Fairlawn. And then the thieves yanked the sensor. E-ZPass showed the car was then in Newark. Multiple toll violations showed it in New York City.

And then it disappeared.

“And that was it,” he said. “I looked on my Ring (door bell video) There was an Audi sitting by the driveway, in 30 seconds someone walked up and drove off.”

Car theft has spiked in New Jersey, increasing roughly 25% year to date over 2021 numbers, said Allendale police chief Michael Dillion, who added that many of the perpetrators are organized crime rings that operate across states lines, shipping high end vehicles overseas to fund drug operations and other illegal activity.

Last year, 14,320 vehicles were reported stolen in New Jersey, a 22% increase compared to 2020, which also saw a rise over the previous year, according to State Police data.

Less valuable vehicles are used in the commission of other crimes and carjacking has made a comeback.

It’s that kind of auto theft and criminal organizations that U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., wants federal intervention on through a variety of steps he outlined at a Tuesday press conference at the Allendale Police Department, including the formation of a national auto theft task force.

Across the United States, vehicle thefts are up 16.5% and container ports, including Port Newark, are places that stolen vehicles are shipped from for resale.

Since vehicle theft rings operate across state lines, that warrants federal involvement, and Gotthemer said he is sending letters to President Joe Biden and the FBI to that effect.

“I’m asking the (federal) Homeland Security to beef up port security, before cars are loaded in containers,” he said.

Gottheimer also wants the U.S. Treasury Department, Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigations to help “follow the money” from stolen vehicle sales to find out what is being financed, from drugs to terrorism. He also wants the House Finance Committee to convene hearings about the issue.

“It’s not an urban or a suburban problem, it’s a state problem,” Gottheimer said. “This (Allendale) is a beautiful place, but it’s not immune from crime.”

In addition to vehicles being stolen from people’s driveways in daylight, brazen carjacking incidents have increased.

Gottheimer mentioned some of them, including a 26-year old man who was assaulted for his Mercedes SUV on March 17 in Teaneck, and carjackers who staged a fender bender in Washington Township, Bergen County, and demanded the keys when the driver got out to check the damage.

The increase in thefts prompted state Attorney General Matt Platkin to expand a multi-agency auto theft task force in March that has operated in New Jersey since 2015. Last year, the task force recovered 130 stolen vehicles valued at nearly $5.7 million.

Of those recoveries, 95 were recovered at Port Newark, Gottheimer said, calling for Homeland Security and the Port Authority to work together to address port security.

“The state has a task force, we need a national task force,” he said. “We can increase law enforcement presence at the port now.”

But car theft rings are nimble and have taken cars to ports as faraway as Charleston, South Carolina, Chief Dillion said.

“These are national crime rings and it is a national homeland security concern and border protection issue,” Gottheimer said, adding he wants to target the leaders of crime rings to “cut the head off the snake."

Police also appealed to vehicle owners for help by not leaving key fobs in vehicles and locking them. In a “vast majority” of thefts last year, vehicles were stolen because the owner left the key fob inside, officials said.

“Hit the start button and you have a car,” Mazon said.

He added that he wasn’t aware that some vehicles have a tell tale sign that the fob is inside because the power mirrors don’t retract. Since his BMW was stolen, he said he makes sure he leaves nothing inside vehicle.

“We want people to understand it’s a problem,” Gottheimer said. “The police are working hard, but we need federal level resources.”

Gottheimer also said it makes it critical to pass the “Invest in Law Enforcement Act” he introduced in January to provide money for police training, education, body cameras and officer recruitment.

Could this work?

Attacking the issue on multiple levels of government, sharing intelligence information and being able to notify ports about stolen vehicles on the eastern seaboard in real time are important tools, Chief Dillion said after the press event.

“It’s important to keep the lines of communication open between local, county and state partners and vehicle manufacturers,” he said.