NEW JERSEY – With the frequency and severity of car thefts skyrocketing in New Jersey and across the nation, Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) is working with local law enforcement officials to strengthen laws and crack down on the theft rings and criminal organizers responsible.
In the state, a record 14,320 autos were heisted in 2021, a dramatic 22 percent increase in one year. The trend has continued to skyrocket this year when a new record is likely to be established.
“The numbers are disturbing, but more troubling is the way the thefts are occurring and the growing use of stolen cars in committing violent crimes,” Bucco said. “The methods and intentions of the criminals have evolved. Car thefts have expanded well beyond simple property crimes. Now the safety of our law abiding residents is at risk.”
Evidence shows much of the spike in thefts can be attributed to organized criminal networks operated by masterminds who employ teenagers to seek out opportunities and steal vehicles, Bucco said.
According to a report from the multi-agency Auto Theft Task Force, “data indicates vehicles are stolen for more than simple resale and indeed evidence shows that … a significant number are used in committing other crimes including those involving violence with firearms as well as crimes exposing the general public to harm.”
“We’re no longer seeing the stolen car ‘joy ride’ offenses of the past. Too many criminals are capitalizing on the anonymity of stolen vehicles to pull off robberies, car jackings, drive-by shootings and murders,” Bucco said. “It has made our streets more dangerous, and it cannot continue.”
The Senator is working in conjunction with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, the Morris County Sherriff’s office and local law enforcement to draft legislation that will increase the penalties and keep offenders off the streets. Bucco anticipates that this sensible initiative will have support from both sides of the aisle in Trenton.
“The criminal recruitment will come to an end. We’re going to punish the leaders with harsher penalties to deter the corruption of the young offenders they are introducing into a life of crime,” Bucco said. “And for the under-age recruits who are lifting cars and wreaking havoc on the roadways and neighborhoods, there will be a price to pay for them, as well.”
Bucco’s legislation will:
- Enhance penal consequences for car theft, reflecting its frequent connection to violent crime. The typical adult car thief, when prosecuted, does not face significant prison or jail time, due to car theft being viewed as a low level (typically third-degree), non-violent property offense.
- Strengthen theft statues involving motor vehicles, enabling prosecutors to bring more serious charges against thieves found in possession of a stolen car.
- Establish a mandatory extended term of confinement under New Jersey’s code for repeat car thieves. For a conviction of a third-degree offense, upon motion of the prosecutor, they would face sentencing in the second-degree range: between five and 10 years.
- Restore a provision, repealed in 2019, for repeat car thieves in the juvenile sentencing code. Harsher punishment for youth offenders could discourage continued involvement in criminal conduct in adulthood.