PORT NEWARK – Auto thefts may be declining statewide, but not fast enough.
Phil Murphy recently called the problem an epidemic.
And as he stood alongside the Port Newark Channel on Wednesday, Rep. Josh Gottheimer concurred:
“We’ve got an alarming crisis on our hands,” he said.
The congressman has been here before – quite literally. Five months ago, he also visited the port to talk about auto thefts.
For the record, about 15,600 cars were stolen in New Jersey last year; in 2019, that number was just less than 12,000.
The increase in thefts has predictably drawn political responses.
Republicans talked about the thefts and rising crime in general in the run-up to last fall’s midterm election.
Many pointed to bail reform as the culprit. That sounded convenient, but in truth, bail reform took effect in 2017 and the auto theft increase did not really occur until 2021.
Gottheimer’s view is that solving the problem takes coordination from various agencies. In other words, increasing police patrols is not good enough,
As has been noted, some cars are incredibly easy to steal and some people still leave their vehicles unlocked.
That’s why cars can disappear from driveways, restaurant parking lots and while parked on the street “in broad daylight,” as Gottheimer said.
The port plays a role because when cars are swiped by professional thieves, they can be on a boat to Africa within hours.
Combatting crime involving the port involves both the federal departments of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Gottheimer back in November faulted the federal government for its reluctance to get involved.
Since then, something has changed.
Gottheimer’s visit to the port today included a “roundtable discussion” with Homeland Security officials, which was not open to the press.
Afterwards, the congressman talked about the need for enforcement at the port to stop stolen cars from leaving the country.
But there’s more.
The congressman says auto manufacturers must get involved to insure that vehicle ignitions are harder for thieves to engage.
There are also proposals in Trenton to increase penalties for auto theft.
During his state of the state address, Murphy said auto thefts have decreased this year.
State Police statistics shows that 1,176 vehicles were stolen in New Jersey in January compared to 1,517 the year before. That’s a 22 percent decrease.
Of course, if folks continue to leave cars unlocked, or leave their key fobs in them, the problem will remain.
Tenafly Police Chief Robert Chamberlain, who heads the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, acknowledged that is a continuing concern.
It is also one police try to combat through education.
“We talk until we’re blue in the face,” he said.