🚗 Statewide, more than 16,600 vehicles were stolen in 2023

🚗 Law enforcement says the public can help to bring numbers down

🚗 Officials say thieves are becoming more brazen

Statewide, vehicle thefts are up year over year.

But the numbers are moving in the opposite direction in Morris County in 2023, according to new figures.

Auto theft in Morris County decreased 27.8% compared to 2022, the statistics show. The count was was 197 last year (273 in 2022).

The focus now is to keep those numbers from climbing again — a mission that can be accomplished with work by both law enforcement and homeowners.

"These thieves are getting more and more brazen," Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll told New Jersey 101.5.

Morris County hot spots for auto theft

According to the prosecutor's office, the county has seen thieves strike most frequently during the week, as opposed to weekends, and often during the overnight hours.

Some hot spots for vehicle theft in the county include Montville, Morris Township, Morristown, Mountain Lakes, Parsippany, and Randolph.

Carroll referred to auto theft as "organized crime" — criminal enterprises operate in a coordinated fashion, where multiple bad actors are deployed in a neighborhood at once. And many recruit juveniles to do the leg work.

"They will scout in advance, sometimes during daytime hours, and then come back late at night or early morning," Carroll said.

If a vehicle is unlocked and the key fob is inside, thieves don't need to do anything but get inside and drive away. But as more residents heed the advice of officials and keep their fobs locked up or out of sight, thieves are resorting to home break-ins, according to officials.

"These are crimes of opportunity," said Robert McNally, chief of detectives for the prosecutor's office. "If you as the homeowner are willing to go the extra step and make it that much more difficult for the potential perpetrator, most times they're going to move on to the next soft target, so to speak."

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More than 16,000 vehicles were stolen statewide in 2023. That's up from about 15,800 in 2022.

According to Attorney General Matthew Platkin, the statewide count would be on the decline if it weren't for a rash of thefts targeting Kia and Hyundia vehicles.

High-end vehicles are still the primary target.

Morris County tackling auto theft

Morris County has its own Auto Theft Task Force, and it works collaboratively with the state's task force devoted to the problem.

Carroll said communication between police departments is paramount in law enforcement's fight against auto thefts. Information shared by dozens of municipalities allows officials to identify commonalities related to the crimes and the criminals themselves.

"Because of some of the methods that we've used on the law enforcement side, we've been able to track some of these groups and we've able to take out some of the leaders of the networks," Carroll said.

Officials are pushing for steeper penalties for criminals, as well as a system that keeps more offenders detained pretrial.

"Our goal is to break the chain of conduct being exhibited by juvenile offenders, leading them away from the path of becoming career criminals as adults," Carroll said. "At the same time, the MCPO aims to prosecute adult defendants to the fullest extent possible, recognizing that members of these networks pose a risk of reoffence."

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