MONTVILLE, NJ – A multi-agency auto theft/anti-crime task force created to combat vehicle burglaries and thefts is urging residents to “Lock It Or Lose It.”

As restrictions ease under Stage 2 of New Jersey’s “Road Back” plan, motorists are reminded to always remove valuables and lock their vehicles at home and while venturing out to get-togethers and public sites.

The task force, first conceptualized by Chief Andrew Caggiano of the Montville Township Police Department, led to a partnership between the Morris County Sheriff’s Office, the Morris County Police Chiefs’ Association, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey State Police Auto Theft Task Force, in coordination with various law enforcement agencies.

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The Task Force has found that in many cases, stolen vehicles have been left unlocked by the owner with a key fob left in the car, allowing a thief to immediately drive it away.

Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon noted that burglaries of vehicles in Morris County have decreased by 43 percent in the first six months of 2020 from the same time period in 2019.

So far this year in Morris County, 79 vehicle break-ins have been reported, including three recent “smash and grab” crimes. Over the first six months of 2019, there were 138 reported car burglaries. In total last year, there were 233 car burglaries and 215 vehicle thefts reported. 

A similar trend has happened in Montville during the lock-down: last year, between January 1 and May 31st of 2019, 35 motor vehicle burglaries occurred; but only 12 happened this year between those dates, a reduction by about two-thirds, Caggiano reported.

While vehicle burglaries currently are down, thefts of actual vehicles in the county between January 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020 have not decreased.

County-wide, there have been 97 reported vehicle thefts so far in 2020, compared to 98 over the first six months of 2019. Similarly, in Montville, there have been 9 thefts this year through May, compared to 8 last year through May.

“By taking some simple actions, vehicle owners have real power to protect themselves and their property and discourage thieves. We’re in Stage 2 of the Road Back in New Jersey and people are naturally anxious to leave home to gather, worship, socialize and exercise. But don’t give thieves opportunities to steal your property by leaving doors unlocked or valuables visible on car seats,” Gannon said.

The following are proactive steps that vehicle owners and community members can take to deter thieves:

  • Never leave vehicles unlocked or idling unattended, even if you are dashing into a home or store.
  • Never leave a key fob in a vehicle.
  • Neighbors should watch out for neighbors. Call your neighbor if you see that their car is unlocked or valuables are visible inside the vehicle.
  • Report any suspicious activity or person.
  • Call 911 to report crimes in progress.

In some incidents in Morris County, suspects have entered victims’ homes by using garage door openers found in unlocked vehicles. Once inside the homes, thieves have been able to locate key fobs and steal cars.

Unlocked vehicles that do not have a key fob inside are also being searched for valuables. In some cases, car burglars will brazenly smash windows of vehicles parked at gyms, parks, and day care centers and grab purses, wallets and other valuables left inside. Bank and credit cards stolen from inside these vehicles are being used in multiple locations, compromising victims’ finances.

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