MILLBURN, NJ – Mayor Robert Tillotson led a public meeting at Town Hall to discuss the three recent carjackings and to field residents’ concerns. Attending the meeting were the Township Committee as well as State Senator Richard Codey, Assemblywoman Mila Jasey and Assemblyman John McKeon.
Tillotson began with a statement outlining the recent events that have led to the public’s concern for safety and security in the township.
“What we have learned in these cases is that the perpetrators were following or monitoring the cars prior to the incidents,” Tillotson said. “Therefore the most important piece of information that we can pass along to you is to be vigilant regarding your surroundings. For example, are individuals loitering around the parking lot? Do you see cars parked with more than one occupant just sitting there? Is there a particular car circling in the area? Be more cognizant when you check your rearview mirror. Is that the same car behind you? Are there unusual cars parked on your street? Have you seen the same car drive by more than once?”
He went on to outline steps that have taken regarding increased police patrols, and requests for increased security at The Mall at Short Hills, such as adding license plate readers. Which can alert police of vehicles passing the readers which have been reported stolen or have other issues. Steps are being taken to improve the operation and coverage area of the security cameras in the downtown parking deck as well as the addition of security telephones in the deck. Quotes are also being sought to place security cameras throughout the downtown area.
Codey noted that he and the state legislature have attempted to curtail carjacking by implementing a five-year minimum sentence for convicted carjackers. He fears that Essex County prosecutors too often plea down charges to lesser offenses and criminals are serving less time than they should.
The fact that Range Rovers are often targeted due to the prices they command in the overseas market was also discussed. Many stolen cars from this region are driven to the port in Newark and loaded onto ships bound for Africa and Europe.
Jasey pointed out that in South Orange, motor vehicle thefts have decreased by 57 percent over the last two years, from 84 in 2011, to 66 in 2012 and most recently 36 in 2013.
“The Village instituted a new zone approach to target areas with the greatest likelihood of vehicles being stolen,” Jasey said. “Aggressive detective work was supplemented by the installation of additional cameras and the processing of located stolen vehicles. The officers find out who was in the vehicles, follow up and make arrests. They deter thefts by sending the message that if you steal a car in South Orange, you will be located and you will be arrested and prosecuted.”
After Gary Nash of the Essex County Sheriff’s office again urged residents to be aware and vigilant, residents took turn going up to the podium to express concerns and the desire that more be done to safeguard the community.
Resident Lawrence Green urged the Township Committee to hire a professional security consulting firm to analyze the town and create an action plan for the police department to implement. He suggesting the town reallocate the money it has been spending on lawsuits into this area.
“There is a level of paranoia in Millburn at the moment and I think it’s well founded,” Green said. “I don’t think what I have heard tonight is going to solve the problem.”
Elizabeth Bartells, a criminal justice professor who grew up in Millburn, pointed at the increase of graffiti in town and said it acts as an indicator to criminals that “it’s OK, no one here cares.”
Resident Keith Simons told the panel that his wife was one of the victims of carjacking, on the afternoon of Jan. 31. He noted that the perpetrator went on to commit two robberies after the carjacking. He applauded the efforts of the Millburn Police Department in the wake of the incident, but feels that there is much more that can be done to prevent future incidents like this.
Simons asked, “With technology so cheap and surveillance so affordable, once the fixed costs are in place, why do we not have our downtown and the access points to downtown monitored with license plate readers and cameras to at least deter criminals?”
More residents echoed that notion as well as a request for more police presence downtown.
“In downtown Summit, there are always uniformed police officers on bicycles and walking around, and I believe it is a deterrent and it makes people feel safer,” said Karen Bigos, a local businesswoman and property owner. “I’m constantly looking over my shoulder feeling paranoid and I don’t see any police. We’ve got to get more presence.”
Resident Cliff Schoeb said the true problem is the organized crime behind the trafficking of stolen cars, and if demand dried up, the carjacking would stop. He also noted that Essex County law enforcement should be doing more for the taxes Millburn residents pay to the county.
Acting First Assistant Prosecutor for Essex County Robert Laurino said the they are working in conjunction with the U.S. Federal Prosecutors’ Office on that issue.
“Because it involves multiple jurisdictions and is multinational in scope, the U.S. Attorney’s office is in charge,” Laurino said.
Police Chief Gregory Weber pointed out that Millburn is a very safe town, and he believes that the trio of recent carjackings is an anomaly. He would like to see more cameras and plate readers, and would add more officers if the budget allowed.