Cargo theft increased 147% in New Jersey from 2009 to 2010, making it a state to watch according to a survey by FreightWatch International, a Texas-based logistics security provider. Hudson and Middlesex counties rank among the top ten risk zones in the country for cargo theft.

Flickr User Alan Miles

Law enforcement estimate thieves steal between $700 million and $1 billion worth of cargo every year in New Jersey, particularly in the North Jersey by Port Elizabeth and Port Newark.

Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande co-sponsors legislation aimed at cracking down on cargo theft in New Jersey, where the crime is a serious and growing problem. The measure is named in memory of a founding member of the State Police Cargo Theft Unit. Lt. Scott Jenkins died of cancer in 2003. He was a founding member of the State Police Cargo Theft Unit and helped it grow into a national model of efficiency in the war on the lucrative cargo theft trade.

“Cargo theft victimizes more than just truck drivers and their companies, it hurts us all by driving up prices we pay for all sorts of products, from televisions to tomatoes,” said Casagrande. “Gangs know that New Jersey is a distribution hub and they have targeted our trucks and made cargo theft a billion dollar problem. Law enforcement needs stronger laws to deter thieves from hijacking tractor trailers.”

Under the bill, there would be fines of $250,000 for a second-degree crime, $500,000 for a first-degree offense or five times the value of property seized – whichever is greater. The legislation also requires mandatory imprisonment of at least 120 days for a second offense, or 270 days for third or more offenses. Those terms would double if the crime involved a weapon.