WEST ORANGE, N.J. — With car thefts in New Jersey on the rise, lawmakers are looking to make penalties for the crime much stiffer.
Police and prosecutors are on board with the effort, CBS2’s Nick Caloway reported Thursday.
Now more than ever, drivers in the Garden State have to lock up or risk losing their car.
Last year, more than 14,000 cars were stolen statewide. This year, vehicle thefts are up 37 percent year to date.
“How ridiculous is that? It’s pretty damn ridiculous,” said State Sen. Richard Codey.
The worsening problem has led Codey, and Democrat and the former governor, to team up with Republican State Sen. Anthony Bucco to propose new legislation to try and combat the crisis.
The bipartisan bill was announced with plenty of support from police, prosecutors and mayors.
“We’ve got to provide a deterrent. We have to provide a consequence,” said Bucco.
Criminals are targeting urban and suburban communities. Luxury cars are often stolen and shipped overseas. Others are being used to commit crimes around the Tri-State Area.
Some thieves are becoming more brazen, going into houses – like one in Paramus – while people are home to steal key fobs.
“It can happen anytime, day or night, and they will confront the owner,” said Morris County Prosecutor Robert Carroll.
Police said criminals are using juveniles to steal their cars because they get lighter punishment.
“Because of bail reform, there’s no harm to them, and it’s disgusting, disgraceful, and we’re going to have a killing at some point, unfortunately,” Codey said.
“It’s a catch and release, a revolving door, and it’s frustrating because now the residents question law enforcement as if we’re not doing our job,” said Todd Warren, director of the Orange Police Department.
The proposed bill would create stiffer penalties for adults involved in these car thefts. Teens caught stealing or receiving the cars could face 60 days of community service for the first offense. Repeat offenders could get 60 days in juvenile lockup.
Currently, the penalty for adults recruiting juveniles to steal cars is five to 10 years in jail. If the bill passes, a conviction would mean 10 to 20 years behind bars.
In April, New Jersey announced a $10 million investment in new technology to stop the rise in car thefts.