MIDDLETOWN — Frustrated by the continuing epidemic of automobile thefts in New Jersey, and what they consider to be little action to stop it, officials in Monmouth County are getting a little more serious in their attempt to get the attention of state leaders.

Outside the municipal police department on Tuesday morning, Middletown Mayor Tony Perry announced that a lawsuit would be filed by the township against the state and its Council on Local Mandates, for costs incurred while trying to keep residents safe from vehicle thefts.

"This is their disaster of a law. They should fix it or they should pay for it," Perry said.

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Perry said bail reform policies enacted in 2017 are to blame for the ongoing threat of residents' vehicles being stolen right out of their driveways. The system shifted from one based mainly on one's ability to post cash, to a risk-based assessment that allows more offenders to go free.

Perry said the town has been boosting patrols — for an issue that appears to be a threat around the clock — and re-arresting the same individuals for the same offenses.

"It's costing us the ability to pave roadways, to maintain our parks, to preserve open space," Perry said.

When asked about the planned lawsuit, Gov. Phil Murphy's office said it would not comment on pending legislation. But a spokesperson noted that the Murphy Administration has taken several steps to combat car theft — a $10 million investment in license plate recognition technology, for example — over the past few years.

In his 2023 State of the State address, Murphy said from September through December 2022, car thefts were down 13% compared to the same four months in 2021.

Monmouth County recorded more than 600 vehicle thefts in 2022, according to Sheriff Shaun Golden. Prior to bail reform in 2017, he said, the stolen vehicle count was around 140 yearly.

Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden speaks during a press conference in Middletown about automobile thefts. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden speaks during a press conference in Middletown about automobile thefts. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

During the Tuesday morning press event, Golden reiterated his support for legislation that would shorten the leash for auto-theft offenders.

"If you're caught three times, guess what? You're doing the time until you stand trial," Golden said. "There's no catch and release, certainly not for seven or eight times, as we've seen."

Golden, Perry, and others got together for a press conference in May on the same topic.

In December, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a number of measures related to stiffening penalties for auto theft. Legislation introduced in December focuses on keeping repeat offenders detained.

Online petition to amend bail reform

Eugenio Marongiu, ThinkStock

Mayor Perry on Tuesday also announced the launch of an online petition "to end failed bail reform policies in New Jersey."

Members of the public who sign the petition at safestreetsnj.com would be "telling Trenton" to fix the current bail process.

“Our judicial system has been hamstrung by policies and policymakers that result in no consequences for illegal behavior. What message are we sending, are we a nation of laws or a nation of chaos?" Perry says on the website.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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