🚨 Juveniles are increasingly being used to steal cars in NJ

🚨Newark FBI head says law enforcement can do little about it

🚨Repeat offenders not being held ‘properly accountable’

Law enforcement agencies have noticed a disturbing trend: underage kids are increasingly being used to steal cars in New Jersey.

FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge James Dennehy said juveniles are being exploited for their age.

“They are actively being targeted because of their juvenile status,” Dennehy told New Jersey 101.5 in a recent interview. “Because it’s safe from a law enforcement standpoint.”

car theft

The ability to combat juvenile crime has become frustrating for law enforcement and infuriating to many local mayors.

After a series of violent crimes in Edison involving juveniles, Mayor Sam Joshi blasted the current laws.

“The rise in juvenile crimes demands our urgent attention. While our great police department is doing all it can to catch those responsible for committing crimes, too often the offenders end up being released without consequences,” Joshi said. “Our police department and courts are being undermined and compromised by state policy and inaction.”

Many young offenders are set free

Even if police are able to make an arrest of a juvenile involved in car theft, a home invasion, robbery or other crime, they are usually set free pending trial in family court.

Under the bail reforms enacted under former Gov. Chris Christie, judges use a risk-based assessment to determine whether a defendant should be released pending trial.  Among the factors is a defendant’s age.  In all but the most serious cases a release is granted.

The FBI’s Dennehy says criminals are very aware of the law.

High end car thefts, home burglaries in Monmouth County
High end car thefts, home burglaries in Monmouth County (Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office/Canva)

“They're beating us at our own game because we don't have the federal laws and statutes and the willingness really to be able to charge juveniles from a federal standpoint. Many local prosecutors may have that opportunity to do so,” Dennehy said.

That is not always the case under current New Jersey law.

Lawmakers have been slow to enact reforms

In March, the state Senate Judiciary Committee held an hours-long hearing examining potential reform to the current system.

Committee Chairman Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth) urged his fellow senators to try to find a balance between justice reform and holding criminals accountable.

During a press conference in Ocean Township, Sen. Vin Gopal announces legislation targeting auto thefts. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)
During a press conference in Ocean Township, Sen. Vin Gopal announces legislation targeting auto thefts. (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

“I have to figure out for my constituents how I can assure them that when somebody is arrested, they will not be back in their neighborhood literally a week later,” Gopal said.

One possible solution would be to give judges greater discretion regarding whether a defendant should go free.

Sen. Jon Bramnick, R-Union, pushed for greater penalties for individuals who commit another crime while on pretrial release.

No legislation

Despite the long legislative hearing and the pleadings of local mayors, no reform legislation is close to being passed.

For mayors like Sam Joshi, that is not acceptable.

“It is at a point where we have to have a deterrent,” Joshi said, “And that deterrent is a fear of consequence. And that's really where we need to curtail the measures that we're taking right now so it's more practical in terms of implementation.”

Joshi and other mayors have also met with New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin to urge him to take action.

Some towns hit by 2019 car theft ring (Google Maps, Canva) (2)
Some towns hit by  car theft ring (Google Maps, CPB.gov,Canva)

It may get worse before it gets better

Special Agent Dennehy offered a grim assessment.

“People are becoming more and more brazen, starting with juveniles, and they're getting away with it,” Dennehy said.

“As a result, you have violent offenders, many people who have multiple felonies under their belt, continuing that activity because they're not being held properly accountable.”

As a law enforcement officer, Dennehy said that is his “biggest concern.”

“They are so brazen,” Dennehy said. “They just go out and keep doing it over and over and over again.”

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