After declining over the past several years, auto theft is on the rise in New Jersey. According to the state crime index, one motor vehicle is stolen roughly every half hour.
Forty-six autos were stolen in Maplewood in 2012, up from 33 in 2011, a nearly 40% increase, according to the Uniform Crime Reporting data.
"We are trying to nip it in the bud," said Lt. Dean L. Naddeo, who heads the Maplewood Police Crime Prevention Unit. Naddeo, who said theft of modern, transponder equipped cars is almost completely preventable, recently sat down with Patch to discuss how citizens can avoid being victims of car theft.
After a high in the 1990's, car theft began to decline when auto technology improved, said Naddeo. For instance, most vehicles now are equipped with transponder ignition systems, which make it more difficult to steal a car without a special key fob.
Thefts also decreased when the market went down for illegally sold parts such as headlights, wheels and car radios. Now, auto theft is "trendy" again, said Naddeo, with statewide rates climbing by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011, the most recent year figures were available.
Cars are most often stolen in one of three different ways, said Naddeo. Nearly a third of all car thefts occur when an owner leaves his or her car idling and unlocked in the driveway.
The second most common way is when people leave keys or key fobs in the car. Sometimes dealers put an extra valet key or wallet key in with the user's manual that gets tucked away in the glove compartment. Car owners might not even realize the extra key is there -- but thieves know where to look.
Also, many cars are still stolen the "old-fashioned" way, said Naddeo, when thieves pry open the lock and pull out the ignition with a screwdriver. Naddeo showed this Patch editor a Dodge Caravan that had been stolen this way (see photos attached to this article).
"Don't leave any keys in car, the key fob in car, or leave cars running," said Naddeo. "Anything from Priuses to Mercedes are stolen this way." Following this advice can reduce the chances of a theft of modern transponder equipped vehicles by 99%, he said.
Other theft prevention methods include alarm systems and steering wheel locks. (For more information, check the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) website and see the PDF attached to this article)
Naddeo said Maplewood officers on patrol will leave a yellow security ticket on vehicles they see idling or unlocked, as a safety reminder to owners. (Car owners can call the PD to request a car security check to ensure they are doing everything they can to prevent theft.)
In 2011, only 4.9% of all car thefts in the state were cleared, said Naddeo. And although 73% of stolen cars are eventually recovered, they might be stripped of parts by the time they are returned to their owners.
The NICB keeps a list of "hot wheels," or cars that are most frequently stolen. Honda Accords have been on this list for many years, because they are easy to steal, and Dodge Caravans are currently popular targets. However, Naddeo said no one is immune, no matter their car type or where they live.
"People might have a false sense of security if they live in an inner part of town" that doesn't border another town, he said. "But [thieves] are looking for that sort of complacency."
Naddeo said residents shouldn't hesitate to call police if they see anything suspicious. "Call even if you think it's nothing," he said. "Be the eyes and ears of your neighborhood."
Citizens can report any theft or suspicious activity by calling the Maplewood Police Department at 973-762-3400.