MIDDLETOWN — In response to the ongoing theft of motor vehicles across Monmouth County, leaders from different levels of government held a press conference at the headquarters of the Middletown Township Police Department on May 3 to address the issue.
In remarks to those in attendance, Mayor Tony Perry stressed how public safety must continue to be the No. 1 priority for leaders in New Jersey.
In recent months, car thieves have become more brazen and are now breaking into homes to find car keys, using weapons to steal cars, stealing cars in broad daylight and attempting to steal vehicles with children in the car, according to a press release from the township.
“We need to work together to correct this issue and prevent crimes like this from happening in our neighborhoods,” Perry said.
Monmouth County Board of County Commissioners Director Thomas Arnone voiced his concerns and spoke about the need to support law enforcement and enact stricter consequences for criminals.
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden called on legislators to establish stiffer penalties for vehicle theft offenders and to hold the adults who are encouraging and using juveniles to commit these crimes more accountable, according to the press release.
This year, 158 vehicles have been stolen in Monmouth County and there has been an increase of more than 110% of high-end auto thefts, according to the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office.
“The tiered system, three strikes and you’re out, should also apply to vehicle thefts,” Golden said.
He said there are offenders who are arrested multiple times only to be released right back onto the streets. Meanwhile, juveniles are being victimized by adults in these crime rings.
“These individuals need to be held to a higher standard and sentenced accordingly,”
said Shrewsbury Borough Mayor Erik Anderson, who announced that the local officials present signed a letter to submit to the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey to request the U.S. Department of Justice’s intervention to help protect communities.
The letter states that “as these crimes involve interstate and international activities, federal intervention is proper.”
During the press conference, New Jersey state Assembly members Vicky Flynn and Gerry Scharfenberger, whose legislative district covers a portion of Monmouth County,
discussed new legislation they will be posting to address bail reform and to enhance penalties.
Flynn said there should be mandatory minimum sentences if individuals are engaging in car thefts and home invasions, and she said there needs to be legislation to address the impact on juveniles in New Jersey.
“There should be a mandatory minimum sentence for any adult who puts a juvenile down the wrong path in these vehicle auto theft crime rings. This isn’t a Republican or a Democrat issue, this is a public safety issue. This is not a Monmouth County issue, but a statewide issue,” Flynn said.
Perry expressed the need to revise the bail reform system and judiciary, saying, “Our judiciary cannot continue to act like a Michelin star restaurant offering topnotch service to criminals who are committing these crimes. We cannot continue to sit here and defend criminals for criminal acts.”
In a related development, on April 29, Gov. Phil Murphy visited Marlboro to announce that $10 million in American Rescue Funds for advanced license plate readers to help combat suburban auto thefts and the state’s vehicle pursuit policy will be reinstated.
According to a press release from Murphy’s office, the $10 million investment in automated license plate recognition (ALPR) technology to reduce violent crime and motor vehicle theft in New Jersey will be funded through the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) State Fiscal Recovery Fund.
The funds will be used to purchase and expand existing high-speed, automated camera systems to capture and store computer-readable images of license plates in a centralized database accessible to law enforcement, according to the press release.
The technology will be installed at fixed locations throughout New Jersey and mounted on mobile units. The equipment provides law enforcement agencies additional tools to address the increase in motor vehicle thefts and a corresponding rise in violent crime seen in suburban and urban areas of New Jersey, according to the press release.
“The alarming uptick we are seeing in vehicle theft is unacceptable and our administration is making investments to combat these occurrences statewide,” Murphy was quoted as saying in the press release.
“To aid law enforcement in this endeavor, an investment in ALPR technology will provide them with the tools they need to reduce these incidents and make our communities safer,” he said.
New Jersey has seen a significant spike in motor vehicle theft since the coronavirus pandemic’s onset, an all-time high of 14,320 vehicles in 2021 in comparison to the previous five years.
The first quarter of 2022 is on track to have a 53% increase in motor vehicle thefts from 2020. Increases in motor vehicle theft have occurred across the state, in suburban and urban areas.
Stolen cars are frequently associated with other violent crimes, particularly shootings. A significant percentage of individuals who commit auto theft offenses have also been involved in shootings, according to the press release from Murphy’s office.
At the same time, New Jersey Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin reinstituted vehicular pursuits in incidents of theft of a motor vehicle until at least Dec. 31, 2022.
In his order, Platkin wrote, “I have directed the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability to review the available data as of that date, including stolen vehicle trends, effectiveness of pursuits and resulting accidents, and determine whether this provision should remain or be modified. Absent additional action, this provision will remain in force after Dec. 31, 2022.”
Independent Managing Editor Mark Rosman contributed to this article.