NJ.com: 14K cars were stolen in N.J. last year. Feds need to help nab theft rings, lawmaker says.

Apr 06, 2023
In the News

Read more from NJ.com: 14K cars were stolen in N.J. last year. Feds need to help nab theft rings, lawmaker says.NJ.com:

By Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

With a slight reduction in car thefts reported in January in New Jersey, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th Dist., called for more federal resources to help cops continue the trend, including forming a National Auto Theft Task Force.

State Police statistics for January 2023 said that about 1,176 vehicles were reported stolen, which is slightly less than the 1,517 stolen vehicles a year prior in January 2022, Gottheimer said at Port Newark after a meeting with U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Customers and Border Protection officials.

The most recent car theft bust was Operation Terminus at the Port of New York and Newark where 23 stolen vehicles valued at $1.3 million were recovered from shipping containers that were being sent to Africa. When agents opened the containers, they found that the vehicles were hidden behind mattresses and stacked on top of one another to conceal the cargo. They also found ammunition.

Gottheimer, flanked at Port Newark on Wednesday by law enforcement from Bergen and Hudson counties and the Port Authority, said he wants the federal resources for more successes like Operation Terminus.

He also made renewed calls for a National Joint Auto Theft Task Force to help investigations.

Some moves have already been made, he said, including the creation of a new Auto Export Crimes Task Force at Port Newark by Homeland Security Investigations, using technology to detect containers with stolen vehicles in them, and information sharing between agencies.

“Thanks to some of the efforts we were just briefed on, the phenomenal work of local, county, state, and federal law enforcement, and because of our efforts to publicize the issue, the numbers of auto thefts in Jersey have dropped in recent months,” Gottheimer said. “The bad news is that the numbers are still unacceptably high.”

Car theft prevention has to start with drivers locking their vehicles and removing the keyfobs so cars are harder for thieves to steal, said Robert Chamberlain, Tenafly police chief and Bergen Police Chiefs Association president.

“It’s a multi-pronged attack with local law enforcement trying to stop this act from occurring. acting to educating residents to be more responsible by locking their cars and taking their (key) fobs,” Chamberlain said. “We need you to help stop it. We have to make it unattractive, or they’ll keep coming back.”

Customs and Border Patrol officials said thousands of the vehicles stolen or carjacked in the tristate area are being illegally exported to Africa through various terminals located in and around the Port of New York and New Jersey.

Last year, 14,320 vehicles were stolen in New Jersey, according to the State Police. And car thefts are among the most difficult cases police handle, officials said, with fewer than 7% of stolen car cases resulting in an arrest.

Gottheimer said more national resources are needed to go after organized car theft rings, adding the “head of the snake is at Port of Newark, at the Port of Baltimore, and at ports globally, especially on the western coast of Africa.”

“Until we cut off the head of the snake, we will never truly succeed in shutting down this massive criminal ring,” he said. “We need more resources for broadband, more X-ray equipment, and more manpower for CBP and DHS at our ports.”

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