Are new police-chase rules driving up car thefts in NJ?
An increase in stolen cars around New Jersey is being tied by at least one North Jersey politician to the state attorney general’s revised vehicle pursuit policy.
However, data from around the state suggests the increase in vehicle thefts is likely linked to owners leaving their cars unsecured — many times with key fobs still inside — in addition to cases targeting car dealerships.
“Engaging in dangerous, high-speed police pursuits puts police officers, innocent third party motorists, and pedestrians at substantial risk of injuries and fatalities,” a spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General said to New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday evening.
“As the revised vehicular pursuit policy points out, in the decade before the policy was updated, vehicular pursuits resulted in almost 4,200 accidents, causing 2,800 injuries, including 625 law enforcement officers, 682 victims in third party vehicles and 52 pedestrians. There were 59 fatalities associated with pursuits in that period.”
“Acting AG Platkin will be announcing a number of strong proactive measures to curb auto thefts, as part of a larger strategy to reduce violent crime and protect the people of New Jersey,” the spokesperson said.
In the case of one high-end theft ring last year, six people were accused of stealing 22 vehicles by targeting dealerships in Essex, Hudson, Bergen, and Union counties in May and June 2021.
In January, police arrested three people and recovered nearly 140 key fobs that were stolen from an auto dealership in Woodbridge.
Car pursuit effectiveness before 2021
A December 2019 report by the Asbury Park Press reviewed more than 66,000 state arrest records on people fleeing from cops.
The report found most chases in the two years prior did not end with a suspect arrested; those who were arrested most often faced drug possession charges.
But in calling the amended car chase policy “nonsensical,” Assemblyman Brian Bergen, R-Morris, linked to a report by the Daily Record, which said nearly 900 vehicles were stolen in Morris County alone from 2018 through the end of 2021.
In nearly all those cases, owners of the vehicles had left them unsecured outside their own residences, the same Daily Record article said.
"About 96% of the vehicles that have been stolen in Morris County had key fobs left behind," according to the report, citing Morris County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Brad Seabury.
After high-end vehicle theft increased by 7.5% in 2020, then-Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor launched a “Lock It or Lose It” public awareness campaign. It encouraged owners to secure their cars and take key fobs with them.
“Ironically, car thieves are stealing vehicles that are equipped with advanced anti-theft technology, but that technology is rendered useless when owners make the decision to leave key fobs inside their cars,” State Police Superintendent Colonel Patrick Callahan said in an October 2020 written release.
“This careless behavior encourages criminals to look for easy targets,” he continued.
The Livingston Police Department said that of 15 vehicle thefts reported in the first eight months of 2021, 14 of them had keys or key fobs left inside, as reported by TapInto.
When are car chases allowed?
“Criminals are stealing cars to hide their identity as they commit other offenses and now cops can’t pursue a possible stolen vehicle. It’s ridiculous and irresponsible,” Bergen said in a written statement.
Under the updated state policy, police are still able to pursue anyone believed to have committed or tried to commit any first-degree crime, as well as a number of violent or serious second-degree crimes including the following:
- vehicular homicide
- aggravated assault
- disarming a law enforcement officer
- luring/enticing a child
- human trafficking
- sexual assault
“The vehicular pursuit policy is designed to secure a balance between the protection of the lives and safety of the public and police officers, and law enforcement's duty to enforce the law and apprehend violators,” the state OAG spokesperson said.