Lawmakers in New Jersey have backtracked on a use-of-force policy that disallowed police to pursue criminals by car after auto thefts continue to rise in the state.
Law enforcement officials met recently to discuss the changes to the law and crime in the state.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin said at the meeting in Marlboro Township Hall that police will now be able to give chase to criminals for stealing a car, as car theft is often simultaneously linked to other serious crimes like shootings.
“This is a serious threat to our state’s safety,” Platkin said, explaining that thefts are occurring in both urban and suburban areas.
Platkin noted that there were 14,320 stolen vehicles in 2021, with a 37% increase in 2022 so far.
Prior to the policy update, New Jersey passed a police use-of-force reform bill that barred police from pursuing criminals by car for drug offenses or car thefts.
While the policy allowed police to chase suspects for serious crimes such as murder or kidnapping, officials argued that the risk of injury to officers, pedestrians and third-party victims was too great to allow car chases for lower-level crimes.
Now, after carjackings continue to rise, police will be able to give chase again to recover stolen vehicles and bring thieves to justice.
Platkin told NJ.com that the state will “tweak” the policy to permit pursuits of car thieves.
“These changes will give law enforcement the tools that they need to meet the moment and to protect our communities while also being mindful of the inherent risks that come to officer safety and to the public when officers do engage in police pursuits,” he said.
In addition to revising the policy, officials announced that the state will use coronavirus funds to utilize license plate technology to locate stolen vehicles.
Governor Phil Murphy said that $10 million American Rescue Plan stimulus funds will be distributed to law enforcement agencies to purchase automatic license plate recognition (LPR) technology.
LPR technology consists of an automatic camera system that stores and scans images that are then uploaded to a public database. The cameras are installed at specific locations or on top of police cruisers.
Murphy said he hopes the investment will give officers more resources during stolen vehicle investigations.
“Crime does not stop at the municipal boundaries of our cities,” Murphy said. “This investment can mean less officer hours spent chasing leads and more of them spent recovering stolen vehicles and getting car thieves off of our streets.”
Responding to critics who argue that the technology constitutes an invasion of privacy, Platkin assured that law enforcement will “continue to honor the strong privacy protections that have been in place in the state for well over a decade.”
Platkin also said the Attorney General’s Office will expand its auto theft task force using $125,000 in federal funds.