Above: Gottheimer with representatives from DHS, CBP, Port Newark, and state and local law enforcement during an auto theft and port security roundtable
PORT NEWARK, NJ — Today, April 5, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), joined with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Port Newark leadership, and state and local law enforcement for a roundtable discussion to receive an update from DHS on efforts to combat the massive surge in auto theft and carjackings.
CBP reported that thousands of the vehicles stolen or carjacked across the tristate area are being illegally exported to Africa from the United States through various terminals located in and around the Port of New York and New Jersey.
Car thefts are down 26% this year in New Jersey. This decrease can be attributed to new action by DHS at Port Newark, the tireless work of local, county, state, and federal law enforcement, efforts to publicize the issue, and new partnerships, resources, and improved information sharing.
Ongoing Auto Theft Issues in New Jersey:
· In 2022, there were more than 15,000 vehicles reported stolen in New Jersey — an increase compared to the same time in 2021.
· 2021 stolen vehicle statistics were already up from 2020.
· In 2022, Bergen County saw a more than 50% increase in car thefts.
· In January 2023, there were about 1,176 vehicles reported stolen, which is slightly less than the 1,517 stolen vehicles from a year prior in January 2022.
· According to recovered vehicle statistics, at Port Newark, 80% of vehicles are recovered or chopped up and 20% are attempted to be exported. It is likely that there are more vehicles being illegally exported and are never recovered.
Gottheimer shared DHS’s roundtable update on its efforts to combat interstate and international auto theft at the ports:
· Homeland Security Investigations at Port Newark created an Auto Export Crimes Task Force.
· DHS and CBP have increased partnerships and information sharing with other agencies and local and state law enforcement.
· Intelligence teams at Port Newark are successfully determining which containers to examine for stolen vehicles.
· Intelligence mechanisms include X-ray technology and examining manifestos for inconsistent container weights.
Gottheimer’s actions to combat the surge in auto theft:
· Since July 2022, Gottheimer has called for better coordination and tougher action from DHS, specifically CBP, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to stop the steady stream of cars flowing into containers and onto ships right here at the Port and heading overseas.
· In July 2022, Gottheimer called on the Administration to create a new National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft. He also urged DHS to boost security at ports to intercept more stolen cars before they are loaded into containers and shipped overseas.
· In November 2022, Gottheimer pressed Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas on auto theft when the Secretary was before Congress. Mayorkas agreed that this was “clearly a homeland security issue” that had to be addressed.
· Today, Gottheimer called for more resources at the port to fight auto theft and other crimes, including increased investment in manpower, equipment, and technology.
“Jersey law enforcement is working overtime in our towns and cities to capture the criminals, and the coordination within the state deserves our praise. I’m grateful that DHS took the time today to brief us on their efforts to crack down on auto theft. It’s important that the public knows that federal action is being taken against auto theft here at the port, in our state, and internationally,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “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 continued, “Until we cut off the head of the snake, the criminal masterminds here in the U.S. and overseas, we will never truly succeed in shutting down this massive criminal ring. The bottom line is we need more resources for broadband, more X-ray equipment, and more manpower for CBP and DHS at our ports.”
“I want to thank Congressman Gottheimer for arranging this event today. It was very enlightening. The coordination has been better than ever, but today was something that needed to happen. Again, kudos to the congressman for making this happen,” said President of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association and Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain.
Gottheimer was joined at Port Newark by Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton, President of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association and Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain, Hudson County Sheriff Frank Schillari, Passaic County Undersheriff Nart Hapatsha, Saddle River Police Chief Jason Cosgriff, Saddle River Police Detective Sergeant Edward Riedel, Woodcliff Lake Police Chief John Burns, Woodcliff Lake Police Officer Steve Regula, Woodcliff Lake Police Lieutenant Chad Malloy, and Woodcliff Lake Police Lieutenant Craig DeGeorge.
Below: Gottheimer with state and local law enforcement following an auto theft and port security roundtable with DHS and CBP.
Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery following an auto theft and port security roundtable:
Good morning. I would like to thank the Port Authority Police for serving on the front lines at our major ports of entry — including here at Port Newark — and at other critical transportation hubs. I’d also like to thank our local and state law enforcement for being here today and for putting their lives on the line every day to keep our communities, streets, and families safe. Together, they protect our state day-in and day-out from serious criminal and security threats including terrorism, illegal drug importation, and human trafficking.
We just concluded a roundtable discussion with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Port Newark leadership, and state and local law enforcement, where we received an update from DHS on their efforts to combat the massive surge in auto theft and carjackings. We also discussed the importance of working together, and coordinating, at all levels of government, from federal to state to county to local, to fight back against auto theft.
Jersey law enforcement is working overtime in our towns and cities to capture the criminals, and the coordination within the state deserves our praise.
But frankly, this is not just a local crime issue — it’s a national and international issue with multistate and global crime rings.
This is a national homeland security concern requiring the involvement of federal law enforcement, including the FBI and DHS, specifically U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (or CBP).
Since July of 2022, when we were seeing a surge in auto theft, I said that we need much better coordination and tougher action from Homeland Security, specifically Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to stop the steady stream of cars flowing into containers and onto ships right here at the Port and heading overseas.
Nearly a year ago, thanks to the input of local law enforcement, I called on the Administration to create a new National Auto Theft Task Force to coordinate federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts focused on combating interstate and international carjacking and auto theft.
I urged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to boost security at ports to intercept more stolen cars before they are loaded into containers and shipped overseas.
Back in November, I had the opportunity to press Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas on this exact issue when he was before Congress. He agreed that this was “clearly a homeland security issue” that had to be addressed.
Again, I spoke to Secretary Mayorkas directly about this at the urging of local law enforcement.
So, I’m grateful that DHS took the time today to brief us on their efforts to crack down on auto theft. It’s important that the public knows that federal action is being taken against auto theft here at the port, in our state, and internationally.
First, I want to give you a quick scope of the problem.
In 2022, here in New Jersey, there were more than 15,000 vehicles reported stolen — an increase compared to the same time in 2021. And the 2021 numbers were already up from the year before.
In 2022, Bergen County saw a more than 50 percent increase in car thefts, but this is also an issue in every county here in northern New Jersey..
It feels like every other day we read about yet another carjacking or stolen car literally taken out of someone’s driveway as they slept or, brazenly, in broad daylight.
These cars are chopped up for parts or they’re brought here where they are immediately put onto ships.
About 80 percent are chopped up and about 20 percent are brought here to be sent overseas.
We’ve also seen a huge uptick in stolen catalytic converters and other parts right off of cars on streets and sitting in driveways. It takes a matter of seconds to steal a catalytic converter and they are worth hundreds or even thousands on the street market.
It’s also becoming easier to steal certain types of cars and the way to do so is being shared virally on TikTok. Someone figured out how to hotwire Kia and Hyundai cars with a screwdriver and a USB cable.
That information is going viral on TikTok — known as the “Kia Challenge” — and it’s leading to an increase in car theft.
We can’t just let criminals steal cars and drive them right onto ships headed out of the country.
They go right to freight forwarders across the tri-state area. They’re often packed up and brought into containers right here. In many cases, it’s very difficult to detect all the vehicles. With intel, they’re doing a much better job of cracking down on where the vehicles are before they get sent overseas. But it’s hard — it’s like a needle in a haystack. It’s very difficult to find all the vehicles.
Now, we do have some good news to share. 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.
Statistics for January 2023 showed that about 1,176 vehicles were reported stolen, which is slightly less than the 1,517 stolen vehicles a year prior to January 2022.
The bad news is that the numbers are still unacceptably high.
Second, we discussed DHS’s efforts to crack down internationally on global auto theft rings.
Until we cut off the head of the snake, the criminal masterminds here in the U.S. and overseas, we will never truly succeed in shutting down this massive criminal ring.
And 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.
CBP reported that thousands of the vehicles stolen or carjacked across the tristate area are being illegally exported to Africa from the United States through various terminals located in and around the Port of New York and New Jersey. The Department of Justice even charged a New Jersey man as part of a car theft ring, which included vehicles recovered at the Port of Newark.
If you can get to the head of the car theft ring and their ability to make money by selling and shipping these vehicles overseas, then we can help cut off the incentives for people to steal the cars in the first place. It’s the difference between getting the guy who is selling the drugs on the street corner and the big boss who is making all of the money at the top of the pyramid.
As we repeatedly hear from our North Jersey police chiefs, a major problem fueling car theft is the ease of which vehicles can be illegally exported overseas right through our ports.
We’ve seen federal reports that only reinforce that. Criminals know that once they steal a car, it’s often smooth sailing right to the ports for them to cash in.
The Port Authority Police have done their jobs protecting our ports from crime on the ground. So have our county and locals. They chase thieves. They go after them every day. These brave men and women serve on the front lines here and at other critical transportation points, protecting our region day-in-and-day-out against serious criminal and security threats like terrorism and human trafficking.
During our discussion with DHS and on our port tour today, they detailed the functions of CBP’s intelligence units, how they act to address currency, weapons, and vehicles leaving the country, and their recent success, Operation TERMINUS. During February’s operation, CBP made a bust at the Port of New York and Newark — recovering about 23 vehicles that were packed into shipping containers bound for 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.
CBP worked with Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the New Jersey State Police, the NYPD Auto Crime Unit, the Hudson County Sheriff’s Office, the Port Authority Police, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau to make this $1.3 million dollar bust. This success shows exactly why we need a National Auto Theft Task Force. Imagine how many more success stories there would be and how quickly we could cut off the head of the snake at our ports.
DHS also briefed us on their border enforcement task force and auto export crimes task force — both of which I believe need additional resources to operate at every port in the country — not just Newark.
Third, it’s clear we need more resources at the port to fight auto theft and other crimes. We had the chance today to review CBP’s and Homeland’s equipment, technology, evidence processing methods, and their seven-point inspection of containers.
The bottom line is we need more resources for broadband, more x-ray equipment, and more manpower for CBP and DHS at our ports. We’re going to fight to get them these resources.
We also need Customs and Border Protection and other agencies within the Department of Homeland Security to immediately strengthen law enforcement presence and improve inspections at our ports. And the Treasury and Justice Departments must look at the international illicit financing angle of these crimes — so that we follow the money, whether that’s in our country or overseas.
We need them to double down, not back down.
And we need to invest in law enforcement at all levels to ensure they have what they need to protect themselves and our communities against these thieves stealing cars, breaking into homes, and furthering other violent crimes. We must also enforce the laws already on the books, so that violent criminals are not released back into our communities to repeatedly victimize families. Thieves, at all levels, need to know there will be consequences for their actions.
Finally, I’m proud that there has been incredible state coordination by New Jersey’s auto theft task force, which includes representatives of the state’s Division of Criminal Justice and several local police departments. It’s a good model for what I’ve called for, and I’ve formally requested funding for a National Auto Theft Task Force — to coordinate between federal, state, county, and local law enforcement here and across the country.
I recently helped introduce the bipartisan Auto Theft Prevention Act, that will provide state and local law enforcement agencies with federal investment to help combat auto thefts and stolen vehicle trafficking.
As New Jersey’s Attorney General put it: car thefts are not an urban problem or a suburban problem in our state. They are a statewide problem, and it’s driving violent crime. And he’s right. These stolen vehicles aren’t just being sold off at the port. Many of the perpetrators are using the stolen vehicles in violent crimes across the state.
Our friends and neighbors are literally being dragged out of their vehicles or having their cars stolen from their driveways with their families just steps away.
We’ve seen the success from Jersey’s state level task force but imagine how effective our fight against car theft would be if every level of government worked together and had the ability to utilize the extensive resources available to the federal government. This whole-of-government coordinated approach and cooperation would provide valuable crime fighting information to our hardworking state and local law enforcement.
In short, when it comes to law enforcement, lowering crime rates across the country, and combating car thefts, you need to invest to protect.
By working together at all levels — like we’re doing here today — I know here, in the greatest country in the world, our best days will always be ahead of us. Thank you, God bless our troops, and may God continue to bless and watch over the United States of America.
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