TRENTON – The Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved a package of bills to counter the surge of auto thefts and related crimes in New Jersey. Sponsored by Senator Joseph Lagana, Senator Vin Gopal, Senator Paul Sarlo and Senator Richard Codey, the bills target a range of criminal activities, including targeting auto theft networks, the use of juveniles by ringleaders, home burglaries, and the use of so-called “master keys” to steal vehicles.
“The rampant and widespread increase in auto thefts calls for a comprehensive plan to crack down on offenders, to help prevent thefts, and take down the criminal networks of car thieves,” said Senator Sarlo (D-Bergen). “Finding a better way to target repeat offenders by increasing their sentences, we believe, will have a chilling effect on these operations that harm our communities.”
“In New Jersey, the vast majority of residents depend on their cars to get back and forth to work, to get their kids to school, or to go wherever they need to be. These bills offer new ways of thinking, and new ways of attacking the car theft problem in our state, by focusing resources on several fronts, and, when necessary, strengthening laws to make would-be perpetrators think twice before stealing another person’s automobile,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic).
“The surge in auto-thefts over the past two years threatens the property and safety of New Jersey residents and places an added strain on law enforcement,” said Senator Gopal (D-Monmouth). “It’s crucial we take decisive and creative action to deter car thieves while also providing additional support to the law enforcement departments and our prosecutors’ offices who are already working hard to curb this disturbing trend.”
“In recent years, our communities have been plagued with a surge of car thefts, with the thefts primarily being done by repeat offenders,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex). “These are sophisticated, well-financed, well-organized business operations, more or less corporations. If we want to get serious about busting up these operations and making headway on car thefts, we must go after the captains of these rings, and not merely be content with arresting the teen-age perpetrators who may be in their service.”
The bills approved by the budget committee on Monday included:
- S2284/S3389 – This bill, sponsored by Senators Sarlo, Lagana and Gopal, would establish separate statutory provisions for the existing crimes of theft of a motor vehicle and knowingly receiving stolen property that is a motor vehicle, and provide for extended sentences for certain persistent offenders.
- Based on State Police testimony given at a hearing in the State Assembly, advocates argue that the separate statutory provision for motor vehicle thefts and the ability for prosecutors to pursue extended terms of imprisonment for repeat offenders would greatly assist prosecutors and law enforcement in responding to the increase in auto thefts across the State.
- S-3006/S3345 – This bill, sponsored by Senator Codey and Senator Bucco, would establish the crimes of participant in an auto theft trafficking network and persistent auto theft trafficking offender, and upgrade auto theft trafficking crimes that involve a juvenile.
- Under this bill, a recruiter in an auto theft trafficking network would also be considered a leader of the network. It would upgrade the crime of leader of an auto theft trafficking network to a crime of the first degree, if, in the course of network’s conduct, the leader uses, solicits, directs, hires, employs, or recruits a person 17 years of age or younger to actively participate in the network.
- S-3390 – This bill, sponsored by Senator Gopal, would expand criminal penalties related to illegal use of a motor vehicle “master key.” This bill amends current law to make it a fourth degree crime for a person to knowingly possess for an unlawful purpose a key fob that operates a vehicle owned by another person or possess a computer program commonly used to start a motor vehicle without an ignition key or key fob.
- S-3346 – In addition to the car theft bills going through the budget committee, this related bill, sponsored by Senator Sarlo and Senator Lagana, which would upgrade the crime of burglary of a residence to a crime of the second degree, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This bill responds to the increasing reports of thieves breaking into residences to steal keys and key fobs in order to steal cars.