https://www.theepochtimes.com/new-jersey-reverses-restrictions-on-car-chases-amid-sharp-rise-in-car-theft_4441456.html

To address a significant increase in car thefts, New Jersey Attorney General announced on Friday the reversal of a policy preventing police from pursuing stolen vehicles.

Acting Attorney General Matthew Platkin revised New Jersey policies to permit police officers to chase stolen vehicles and vehicles involved in five other crimes including home burglaries. (pdf)

“Specifically, we will permit pursuits based on the commission of several additional crimes, notably car theft and receiving a stolen vehicle,” Platkin said at a press conference in Malboro, New Jersey, adding that the revision of the policy would address law enforcement concerns and provide them with necessary tools to protect communities.

The state has seen a serious spike in motor vehicle theft, an all-time high of more than 14,300 vehicles stolen in 2021 in comparison to the previous five years, according to a statement by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

“Increases in motor vehicle theft have occurred across the state, in both suburban and urban areas,” the statement said, “Stolen cars are frequently associated with other violent crimes, particularly shootings.”

“So far this year we’ve seen an increase in 37 percent auto thefts compared to last year at this time and a 53 percent when you compare us to 2020 at this time,” Platkin said in Malboro, a town in Monmouth County which has been severely hit by car theft rise.

The directives that prevented law enforcement from pursuing stolen vehicles were issued by Platkin’s predecessor in December 2020 (pdf) as a part of New Jersey’s initiative to reduce the use of force by law enforcement.

Lifting the limits on vehicular pursuit addresses one concern that two Republican state lawmakers Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn and Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger raised on behalf of their constituents.

Flynn and Scharfenberger, both representing the same district in Monmouth County, sent about 10 days ago a letter to Platkin, a Democrat, requesting an immediate revision of the directive that prevented police from pursuing stolen vehicles.

The prohibition of high-speed vehicular pursuit impairs police personnel’s ability to make arrests for stolen vehicles. as well as for other crimes such as home invasions, said the letter, seen by The Epoch Times.

Both lawmakers are being contacted daily by their constituents requesting help amid the crime surge, Flynn said in a statement. “They know there have been changes to law enforcement protocols that prevent law enforcement from addressing these issues and they want their legislators to take action,” Flynn explained.

The assembly members asked Platkin in the letter for a meeting to discuss the issue and to develop “in a collaborative manner” a solution–either legislative or through AG directives–to address the surge in crime in the communities they represent, the letter said. So far they have not received any response from the AG, said Scharfenberger.

The second factor that significantly contributes to the recent crime surge in Monmouth County is the existing law known as bail reform which allows arrested criminals to be released almost immediately with little or no bail, Scharfenberger told The Epoch Times.

The New Jersey bail reform went into effect in 2017 with the goal of allowing low-risk suspects to be released pretrial on a range of conditions excluding money bail, Stuart Rabner, chief justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, wrote for NJ.com in 2017. (pdf)

“In reality, there are people who are charged with some very serious crimes, or may have a long arrest record, who are now being let out under this new policy,” Scharfenberger said.

The assemblyman added that he and Flynn spoke to police chiefs in their county who told them that “the criminals are out on the street before the ink is dry on their police report. So even if they are arrested, they’re out on the street again.”

Once they are released, they commit new crimes, for which they get arrested again only to be released again shortly after, the assemblyman said.

The impact of bail reform on the surge of criminal activity was exacerbated by the Murphy administration’s early prisoner release policies due to COVID-19, he added.

In October 2020, Murphy, a Democrat, signed into law a bill reducing prisoners’ sentences due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in releasing thousands of inmates. This policy has reduced the prison population by 40 percent, said New Jersey Republican state Senator Michael Testa in a statement.

The crime surge is statewide but it is very bad in Monmouth County, Scharfenberger said. “In broad daylight, there are home invasions. It’s terrible. There’s weapons being pulled on people in their own driveway.”

The assemblyman cited the county sheriff who told him that such a crime spike has not been seen in his county for 30 or 40 years. Criminals target towns that are fairly affluent, have a decent amount of wealth, and it is one reason why the county is flooded with crime, the lawmaker explained.

Monmouth is also easily accessible from a major New Jersey highway that crosses the county from north to south, so car thieves can quickly get on the highway and go back up north, he said. “They can make a quick getaway.”

How to Stop the Crime Surge

Police officers in New Jersey in a March 20, 2020, file photograph. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images)

Scharfenberger and Flynn took quick actions to stop the crime rise. They talked to “several of the mayors and several police chiefs to get their input on what they’re dealing with, and what they needed to rectify the situation,” and the joint letter they sent to the state AG was based on the input from these consultations, Scharfenberger said.

They also wanted to inform New Jerseyans of the situation and ways to fix it, he said. “We have to shine a light on it so the administration would listen to us, which appears to be what’s happened.”

The lawmakers are also drafting legislation that would revise the bail reform to prevent arrested criminals from getting back onto the street in record time, Scharfenberger said.

Murphy also announced on Friday at the press conference that the state will invest $10 million in automated license plate recognition technology. The funds will be used to purchase and expand existing high-speed, automated camera systems that will capture and store computer-readable images of license plates in a centralized database accessible to law enforcement, the governor’s statement said.

Scharfenberger said that Monmouth County already has the most advanced license plate readers but to remedy the crime surge, the root causes of it needed to be addressed. If the police know the license plate of a stolen car but can not pursue the criminal in the car, what good it is, Scharfenberger asked rhetorically.

“The root causes are not incarcerating suspects who are caught in a stolen car … or in the process of a burglary. … What we need is a revision to the bail reform– revolving door system that we have now,” the assemblyman emphasized.

The assemblyman also plans to draft a sort of Stand Your Ground law that will allow residents to defend themselves in their homes against intruders threatening their life and property. “New Jersey has very strict laws about what you can do [in terms of self-defense] even in your own home,” he added.

Ella Kietlinska

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Ella Kietlinska is a reporter for The Epoch Times focusing on U.S. and world politics.

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