In Brief

Lawmakers advance bills to curb car thefts and toughen penalties against offenders

By: - December 6, 2022 6:49 am

Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden) chairs the Assembly's law and public safety committee, which advanced four bills Monday to crack down on car thieves. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

Lawmakers advanced four bills Monday that would toughen penalties for car thieves as policymakers scramble to curb skyrocketing rates of car thefts statewide.

Major Larry Williams of the New Jersey State Police told members of the Assembly’s law and public safety committee Monday that 14,322 vehicles have been stolen so far this year, up 9% from last year — and up 41% from 2020.

He attributed the spike to “capitalism in its worst form” driven by demand for stolen luxury cars in other countries. High-end cars are most commonly targeted, with thieves shipping them overseas, Williams said.

Thieves can be tough to nab because the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s primary responsibility “is to watch stuff coming into the country, not stuff leaving the country,” Williams said.

Williams’ testimony kicked off a contentious two-hour hearing in which Republicans pinned a statewide spike in car thefts on bail reform, saying New Jersey’s decarceration trend enabled repeat offenders to go on larcenous sprees unchecked.

Williams blamed repeat offenders for the theft wave, too, although he couldn’t cite numbers.

Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden), the committee’s chairman, repeatedly urged his legislative colleagues and advocates who brought up bail reform to stay on topic.

The bills advanced Monday would:

  • Establish car theft and receiving a stolen car as separate offenses and toughen sentences for repeat offenders. They now fall under the state’s general theft statute.
  • Increase fines and extend the suspension of driving privileges for carjacking and car theft.
  • Expand penalties for the use of a vehicle master key, which unlocks and starts the ignition on multiple vehicles, to include new technologies used to steal cars with keyless entry systems.
  • Require the owners of scrap metal businesses to document information from people selling used catalytic converters that aren’t attached to a car. Thefts of catalytic converters also have risen.

Authorities have foiled some thefts by using automated license plate readers to help authorities track and recover stolen cars, Williams said.

Car owners who leave key fobs in or close to cars make it easier for thieves to steal the vehicles, he added.

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.