MONTVILLE, NJ – Montville Police Chief Andrew Caggiano had enough with car thefts, so he recently decided to take action. The chief was pivotal in convening an auto theft task force designed to stop a persistent trend in car thefts and car burglaries in Morris County.
In a recent 3-day period alone, six vehicles were stolen in the county – in Montville, Madison, Mountain Lakes, Mount Olive and Roxbury – and two were taken in afternoon daylight, said Caggiano.
In 2019 in Morris County, 215 vehicles were stolen and another 233 vehicles were burglarized, according to the county Sheriff’s Office. Thieves roamed the Montville Chase condominium complex March 5 taking things out of cars and a windshield was smashed, according to reports on social media.
“Montville is a geographically and economically convenient location,” Caggiano said. “As such, we are experiencing a scourge of vehicle thefts and burglaries. I realized that there is strength in combining our forces, and proposed the Auto Theft Task Force.”
In 2018, 227 vehicles were stolen in Morris County and another 231 vehicles were burglarized, with valuables removed, but the vehicles were not removed from the premises. In the majority of these 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.
Not Just Cars
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, police said. In some cases, car burglars have resorted to smashing windows of vehicles parked at gyms, parks and day care centers and grabbing 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.
Of critical concern to law enforcement is the fact that some vehicles stolen in Morris County have been used to commit violent crimes in other areas, such as shootings, armed robberies and homicide. One incident involved a vehicle, stolen from Parsippany, that was used in a shooting involving three firearms in Essex County.
High-end makes and models – Mercedes Benz, Lexus, Range Rover, Porsche, Audi - and Ford pick-up trucks, are most commonly targeted.
Communities targeted by thieves are generally close to highways, including Routes 80, 287, 46 and 24. Most of the vehicles have been recovered – 75 percent – but they typically are damaged. The stolen vehicles have predominantly been disposed of in Essex County, authorities said.
To further combat this and other issues, the multi-agency auto theft/anti-crime task force was launched to enhance patrols and further investigations of auto theft and other pattern-type crimes. The initiative, first conceptualized by Caggiano, has come about through 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.
“This vital task force will help us identify thieves and stop a stream of offenders from entering Morris County to steal from people when they’re asleep, visiting a gym or store, or when they are out of their home at work,” Morris County Sheriff James Gannon said. “The task force will enable us to conduct immediate investigations, across county lines, in an effort to locate vehicles and hold suspects accountable more quickly.”
The Newark Police Department also is a partner in the task force, and in February started its own 90-day pilot program called the Felony Auto Theft Investigative Unit. According to Newark Public Safety Director Anthony Ambrose, Newark police as of February recovered 120 vehicles stolen from other municipalities. Forty-one of them, or 34 percent, had been involved in violent crimes.
Technology Can Catch Thieves
Law enforcement is also tapping into technology to communicate with neighborhoods where car thefts or burglaries occur and is asking residents to check for surveillance footage that may prove helpful in identifying suspects and other vehicles that may have been involved. Several apps that use home WiFi to alert homeowners to the presence of someone at their door or within range of a security camera can provide a high-density video stream of activity on the exterior of their property.
Residents Can Help
The critical aspect of this initiative is to partner with members of the community, who are asked to be alert and provide information to law enforcement so that they can target suspects committing crimes in the county.
Morris County Prosecutor Fredric Knapp lauded the task force, saying, “Chief Caggiano has taken the lead on this effort. However, we need our residents to be vigilant to prevent these crimes.”
Community members are asked to be the first line of defense in preventing car thefts and car burglaries. Law enforcement is asking residents to take simple, proactive steps to discourage thieves who roam residential neighborhoods in the dark of night, checking parked vehicles on streets and in driveways to determine whether they are locked.
- Vehicles should never be left unlocked
- 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
The Morris County Auto Theft Task Force can be contacted at 973-285-6300 or after hours at 973-285-2900.