It’s open season for car thieves in Lakewood, NJ — dramatic rise in crime
A half dozen vehicles were vandalized and three stolen in two neighborhoods early Tuesday morning as a sharp upward trend in the number of stolen vehicles in Lakewood continues.
Police Capt. Gregory Staffordsmith said the window of a vehicle on Tova Drive was smashed and several items were stolen. The burglar then stole a 2014 Honda Odyssey and drove it about 5 miles away to Seapoint Drive.
Several others joined the car thief in the development off Route 88, who broke into six more vehicles. Two more vehicles were also stolen: a 2015 Toyota Sienna and a 2022 Hyundai Sonata, the 12th and 13th stolen vehicles of the year so far in Lakewood.
No arrests have been made in the case.
Double the number of stolen cars in Lakewood
There were 98 reported car thefts in Lakewood in 2022, a significant increase over each of the last three years. There were 48 reported thefts in 2021, 36 in 2020 and 42 in 2019, according to Staffordsmith. There have already been 13 reported in 2023.
The Township Committee at its Jan. 19 meeting followed the lead of several other municipalities such as Marlboro and adopted an ordinance to increase its local Municipal Court penalties for vehicle burglaries and thefts. The vote was unanimous.
The ordinance imposes a $1,000 fine and a possible 90-day county jail term on anyone intentionally entering a property without permission to tamper with a vehicle or steal it. The fine for subsequent offenses is $2,000.
Lakewood's Township Committee unanimously voted for an ordinance on its first reading at the Jan. 2 meeting that would prohibit trespassing on private property to tamper with or steal a vehicle. The ordinance has the support of Lakewood Police Chief Greg Meyer.
Lots of talk but inaction at the state level
Gov. Phil Murphy and the members of the Legislature agree that penalties need to be strengthened but there is disagreement on how strong. Bills that would impose harsher penalties have been approved, but there has been no agreement on any changes to the bail system.
At a recent legislative hearing, civil rights groups warned lawmakers changing the current rules for bail could have "an astounding economic and social cost."
The ACLU of New Jersey's Joe Johnson said arrests were made in less than 10% of all stolen vehicle cases.
"People are committing auto theft in the state of New Jersey because the data shows that they will not get caught," Johnson said.
In the meantime, the basics apply to prevent auto theft: lock your vehicle, take your key fob into the house and lock the doors.
Staffordsmith asked anyone with information is urged to contact the Lakewood Police Department at 732-363-0200.
Previous reporting by Eric Scott was used in this report
Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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