WEST ORANGE, NJ - On Monday, Aug.19, Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray, Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman and Newark Police Director Samuel A. DeMaio held a press conference to announce joint anti-carjacking public awareness campaign.
The campaign will utilize billboards, bus advertisements and flyers. If convicted of carjacking, it is considered a serious crime and offenders will receive harsh sentences.
“Carjacking is not the same as taking a stolen car for a joyride,” said Murray. “When you pull out a gun or force someone out of their car unwillingly that is a serious crime and the penalties are severe if you are convicted. We want to send that message to young people who sometimes seem to view carjacking as nothing more than a theft.”
“Carjacking is the fastest growing and potentially the most dangerous of crimes against persons and property,” noted Sheriff Armando Fontoura. “This public education initiative was devised to warn that law enforcement has teamed up our anti-carjacking efforts and makes clear the serious and long-term consequences of committing such a crime.”
Essex County had the highest percentage of car theft in the nation during the 1990s. With advances in automotive technology, combined with sophisticated anti-theft devices now installed in cars, it has become increasingly difficult for amateur thieves to steal vehicles. As a result, carjackings are on the rise. West Orange has had three carjackings and an attempted carjacking since the start of 2013.
In the 1990s, Essex County led the nation in car theft. With advances in technology, increasingly vehicles are equipped with sophisticated anti-theft devices, making it almost impossible for an amateur to steal an unattended car. As a result, carjackings have been on the rise in Essex County. Approximately 200 carjackings occurred in Essex County in 2009, but most recent reports set the number at over 400. Expensive as well as inexpensively priced vehicles are targeted.
According to NJ.com, "414 carjackings occurred last year and 428 in 2011. Nearly 80 percent of the 282 carjackings in Essex County so far this year have been in Newark".
“Carjacking terrorizes victims and the communities in which they live and work," Fishman said. “The penalty for these crimes is appropriately tough. Carjackers prosecuted federally can face decades in prison, far from home, in a system with no parole.”
SInce the inception of the Carjacking Task Force organized by Fishman and then-Acting Essex County Prosecutor Robert Laurino in 2010, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office noted that they have worked with several agencies to address the increase in carjacking, such as the U.S. Attorney’s Office; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the Newark Police Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office; the New Jersey State Police; and the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.
East Orange, Belleville and Irvington Police Departments recently came on board as part of the Carjacking Task Force. The ECPO also has a Special Prosecutions Unit. Three assistant prosecutors are assigned to that unit to handle carjacking cases. Eight defendants have been indicted for carjacking in the past several weeks, and federal, state and local level prosecutors are reviewing cases that may be federally prosecuted. 37 defendants have been prosecuted since the task force began in 2010. Five Essex County residents were federally charged last month alone.
The ECPO also advised that if federally prosecuted, carjacking or attempted carjacking can result in a maximum penalty of 15 years; 25 years if serious bodily injury occurs; and life in prison or the death penalty if a death occurs. Use of a firearm adds more time to the sentence: a minimum consecutive term of five years for possession, seven years for brandishing, 10 years for a firearm discharge, and possible life in prison. Each charges carries a $250,000 fine, and the federal prison system does not allow parole.
“We are encouraged by this partnership of federal, state and local law enforcement to combat carjacking in our communities,” said Murray. “Our goal is to let carjackers know that we take these crimes very seriously and that the penalties they will face are considerable.
“In addition to putting would-be criminals on notice, we want to alert the public to be cautious,” Murray said. “Don’t leave the keys in your car even to run in and drop the baby off at the babysitter’s. Don’t leave your doors unlocked as you drive around. Be alert. Be smart,’’