WESTFIELD, NJ — A local detective assigned to the New Jersey State Police to recover cars stolen from the town, officers patrolling in stealth police vehicles and the arrests of suspected burglars and thieves have not stopped a spate of vehicle thefts and burglaries here — nearly all of which have been of and from unlocked cars, the police chief said.
Police Chief Christopher Battiloro in a Facebook interview with the mayor last week reported that thieves have stolen six cars from the town in the first quarter of this year and burglarized a series of unsecured vehicles.
“People bear a personal responsibility here,” Battiloro said. “These are crimes of opportunity. The bad guys are coming to Westfield because they’ve had success here.”
Police arrested three teenagers last month in what was the latest in a string of vehicle burglaries, and state police in that same month arrested three men in Irvington who are suspected of stealing a BMW from Westfield and then committing a homicide in Newark the next day.
Battiloro said that a Westfield police detective detailed full time to the state police has been recovering the vehicles stolen from Westfield.
“He’s been able to recover just about all of our vehicles,” the chief said.
But it’s a dangerous job, and the officer “has been banged up on more than one occasion,” Battiloro said.
Thieves and burglars have targeted high-end vehicles in Westfield — cars valued at upwards of $70,000 in many cases, he said. Locking those vehicles, Battiloro said, is not something that residents must do when they hear about crime — people need to do it all the time, he said.
“We don’t need you to lock your cars for a week or so,” he said. “We need it to be a practice.”
He said that police have used their nondescript police vehicles to help thwart would-be car burglars and thieves including in one case by releasing a suspect, who then attempted to steal a police vehicle.
Police picked up the suspect, who they had found checking door handles and then released him into the same neighborhood where they placed a series of decoy cars, Battiloro said.
“He actually checked the door handles on some of the nondescript vehicles that our officers were sitting in at the time,” he said.
Vehicle burglaries and thefts this year have mainly happened in Westfield’s First Ward, Battiloro said. “A lot of them come out of the Indian Forest part of town,” he said.
But they haven’t been limited to that part of town. In January, an unlocked car left running in front of the Westfield Diner on North Avenue was taken.
The problem of property crimes is not a new one in Westfield.
In 2020, thieves took 25 vehicles and committed 11 burglaries in Westfield, state uniform crime reports show. Police recorded 136 larcenies, which are property crimes except for auto theft in that year, the reports show. The figures indicate one arrest for an auto theft, four arrests in connection with burglaries and two arrests for larceny in 2020.
In 2019, thieves took 20 vehicles and committed nine burglaries in Westfield, the crime reports show. Police recorded 112 larcenies in that year. The figures indicate three arrests for auto theft, three burglary arrests and 13 arrests in connection to larcenies.
In 2018, thieves took 26 vehicles and committed 24 burglaries in Westfield, according to the crime reports. Police recorded 167 larcenies in that year. Officers made four arrests for auto thefts, six arrests for burglaries and 35 arrests for larcenies, the figures show.
Mayor Shelley Brindle encouraged residents to take preventative measures.
“If we as a community could be more consistent in ensuring our own security through our own personal actions, the resources that you’re currently dedicating to car thefts and things could be allocated towards more proactive measures on other things that are more important, I would imagine,” Brindle told Battiloro.
Battiloro, however, said the department is focusing its resources on the issue of Westfield’s property crimes.
“We’ve refocused on areas of town that need greater patrols,” he said. “We have officers out there in plainclothes driving unmarked and nondescript police vehicles. We’ve even had officers out there at night on bicycles and on foot patrolling some of the areas that are commonly targeted.”
What else is the department doing?
“I’d like to share all our secrets with you, but I don’t want to let the bad guys know all of our secrets. We are devoting a tremendous amount of resources.”
Email Matt Kadosh at email@example.com | Twitter: @MattKadosh
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