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U.S. House bill would create national auto theft crime fighting network

The bill would provide for information sharing and dissemination, emulating the New Jersey State Police real-time crime center; there, agecies are tied into a real-time computer chat to report car thefts and information


U.S Rep. Josh Gottheimer and State Police officials look at real time car theft information being shared by New Jersey police departments in Newark, one of three State Police Real Time Crime information centers in the state on Friday, His bill would replicate this center nationally and create a national car theft bureau in the Department of Justice.

Larry Higgs/TNS

Larry Higgs

NEWARK, N.J. — Calling New Jersey the epicenter of auto theft with 16,000 stolen cars reported last year, U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-5th, announced plans to combat the problem by providing funding and other resources for police departments to share real-time information about boosted cars.

Standing in the State Police Real Time Crime Center, located in a Newark police precinct that provides immediate car theft information to police departments across the state, Gottheimer said a bill he’s sponsoring would replicate the center in other states to reduce the 1 million reported auto thefts in the nation in 2023.

The Combatting Auto Robbery at the Source, or CARS Act, is co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, a New York Republican and former NYPD detective, who understands the public safety threat of auto theft, Gottheimer said.

“Auto theft isn’t just a crime in urban areas, suburbs and rural areas are also faced with this issue,” he said. “The thieves are often career criminals, with ties to organized crime and multi-state crime rings.”

State authorities in New Jersey have steered millions of dollars toward combatting the national rise in auto thefts that peaked shortly after the coronavirus pandemic.

The bill would provide for information sharing and dissemination, “smart and effective” solutions similar to what is done in the real-time crime center in Newark. There, police departments and state police are tied into a real-time computer chat to report car thefts and information to catch criminals and recover vehicles.

Information from license plate readers and other technology about a stolen vehicles location is shared in real time, officials said.

It will give state and local police departments “the resources they need to help reduce auto theft,” Gotthiemer said.

So far, 3,000 vehicles have been stolen in New Jersey this year at a rate of about 36 a day, Gottheimer said. More disturbing are 53 carjackings reported so far this year, he said. That includes an incident in Edison last month where a driver fought off three masked men who tried to carjack his high-end SUV.

Two teens were arrested on March 22 in connection to the crime.

Roughly 20% of the stolen vehicles are shipped overseas through ports in Newark and Elizabeth, he said.

Gottheimer wants to reestablish the National Auto Theft Bureau at the U.S. Department of Justice. It would act as a national auto theft clearinghouse for data so local, state and federal law enforcement will share data in real time, he said.

“It will take this (New Jersey) model and bring it nationally, these crime rings are nation and move between states very fast,” he said.

That bureau will provide training, resources and recommendations to private industry, the public and law enforcement agency to how to combat auto theft. It will also work with the auto industry to spot vulnerabilities such as the Kia and Hyundai issue that made those cars targets for thieves, he said.

Finally the CARS act will make sure police have resources through grants to provide info sharing and best practices that work, Gottheimer said.

“You’ve got to invest to protect,” he said.

Law enforcement officials at the event said more resources were needed.

“It brings a common sense solution to situations we face every day,” said Dan Oliveira, president of the State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association, a police union.

“It provides the tools for law enforcement, such as data sharing between agencies and funding opportunities.”

The state Policeman’s Benevolent Association also backed the bill.

“The information sharing is excellent, but this bill will give us a true clearinghouse on car thefts,” said Patrick Colligan, state PBA president. “It will really help us solve crime and get these criminals off the streets.”

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