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Assemblywomen introduce legislation to crack down on car thieves

Typing Letter to the Editor for the Opinion page.

By Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno

Home invasions, car thefts and violence are not just an urban problem, as many locals have unfortunately come to understand firsthand. The statistics are alarming, but should motivate us to enact tougher penalties for brazen criminals threatening our communities’ safety and security.

Car thefts in Monmouth County alone jumped by 30% from 2019 to 2020.

In 2021, more than 14,300 vehicles were reported stolen statewide. Year-over-year, auto thefts were up by 22% in New Jersey.

So far, 2022 is not showing signs of improvement, with thefts up by more than 30% and state police saying there is a strong connection between those crimes and shootings.

Preventative measures like locking vehicle doors and removing key fobs from a vehicle help deter criminals, but they put the onus entirely on law-abiding residents. People deserve to feel safe in their own homes.

The issue needs to be addressed legislatively. We have introduced a package of four bills dedicated to keeping these thieves behind bars and off our streets.

Under the first bill, a person charged with the theft of a motor vehicle could not be let out on bail if they engaged in conduct that caused or created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person. This is an obvious and much-needed change.

Another bill would amend New Jersey’s joyriding statute, acknowledging that minors are being recruited to commit many of these auto thefts.

The charge for the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle without consent would be upgraded to a third degree crime. If the act created a risk of injury to any person or a risk of damage, it would become a second degree crime.

Ringleaders are taking advantage of young people because they know the young people will only receive a slap on the wrist and will be back on the streets as soon as the next day to steal more cars.

Therefore, we are also drafting a bill creating education and counseling opportunities for juveniles involved in the theft of a motor vehicle.

Two other measures in the legislative package would upgrade auto theft offenses to a second degree crime if a car were driven in a manner that created a risk of injury to any person or property damage, or if the vehicle was valued at $25,000 or more (currently it is $75,000).

While we work to get these bills signed into law, we are simultaneously drafting separate legislation to ensure enhanced penalties and mandatory minimums for offenders and criminal actors using electronic GPS tracking devices in connection with the theft of a motor vehicle.

We are also proposing a measure to create a “three strike” system for repeat offenders. It is irresponsible to allow a criminal in New Jersey to steal a car, be arrested, go to jail and get released the next day. This system has proven to be a dangerous failure and it must be fixed.

In conjunction with law enforcement’s continued efforts, we hope this legislation will deter future criminals and punish current offenders accordingly. We look forward to advocating for the legislation’s passage and creating safer communities for all our residents.

In the meantime, please call our district office at 732-268-8969 if you would like to discuss this or any other issue affecting you or your family.

This Your Turn guest column was written by New Jersey Assembly members Kim Eulner and Marilyn Piperno, who represent New Jersey’s 11th Legislative District. The district is comprised of the following towns in Monmouth County: Allenhurst, Asbury Park, Colts Neck, Deal, Eatontown, Freehold Borough, Freehold Township, Interlaken, Loch Arbor, Long Branch, Neptune City, Neptune Township, Ocean Township, Red Bank, Shrewsbury Borough, Shrewsbury Township, Tinton Falls and West Long Branch.

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