In May of 2011, Jihad Brown cut off a grey Audi A6 on the street in Newark, got out of his own car, produced a Smith and Wesson .357 magnum pistol, and screamed, “Get out of the car, pops!” The next day, he stole a grey Infiniti G35 from a woman as she was loading an infant into a car seat. There were two young children already in the car when Brown pulled out the handgun. The next day he used the same pistol to steal a black Infiniti FX-35. The day after that, a black Infiniti FX-35 without license plates cut off a Mercedes C-300 in traffic, and Brown hopped out of the car and forced the driver and her two-year-old child to get out. Eventually, Brown was apprehended and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The story of Jihad Brown is far from uncommon. The streets of Newark, the biggest city in New Jersey, have been flooded with carjackings in recent years, making it increasingly unsafe to drive in the city. The problem stems from the fact that wealthy and impoverished areas of New Jersey are situated very close to one another, meaning that people are driving luxury vehicles through areas where people are desperate for money. On top of that, the black market network for stolen vehicles is well-developed and fully functional, despite efforts from local law enforcement to combat this crime wave. While carmakers and the police have been doing their part to make it harder to steal cars and harder to sell stolen cars, this problem still persists. Indeed, if you’re a New Jersey local, you’ve almost certainly heard a story of someone getting their car stolen at gunpoint.
Carjacking is a difficult crime to put a stop to. It’s extremely lucrative; criminals can make several thousand dollars in a matter of minutes by stealing a high-value luxury vehicle. Plus, in many cases, it’s a rather easy crime to commit if the car is old enough to lack anti-theft technology. In this article, we’ll look at when this problem started, what’s being done to mitigate it, where these cars are going, and whether or not the streets of Newark will ever be free from the threat of carjacking.
The Top Carjacking Cities in New Jersey
The carjacking epidemic is not only affecting Newark, but also the surrounding areas and some other cities in New Jersey. In 2012, Newark was easily the city with the largest carjacking problem with about 4,000 vehicles stolen in that year in a city with a population of around 277,000 people. That works out to about 13.7 vehicles stolen per 1,000 people.
The city with the next highest rate of carjacking in that year was Irvington, a township that borders Newark and has a high rate of poverty. Many of the carjackings carried out in Irvington are by residents of Newark that come over to the city of Irvington to find drivers of luxury vehicles. Irvington also borders Maplewood, a fairly wealthy town, so there is a large supply of expensive vehicles on the road. Irvington came in a close second to Newark in carjacking numbers and also had about 13.7 carjackings per 1,000 people in 2012.
After that, Elizabeth, a city that borders Newark to the south, came in third with 9.6 carjackings per 1,000 people. In fourth was Camden with about 8.8 carjackings per 1,000 people. And in fifth was Orange, a city quite close to Newark, with 8.6 carjackings per 1,000. As you can tell, the carjacking crime wave is very much centered around the city of Newark.
Profile of a Carjacker
The majority of carjackers in the Newark area are Newark residents from low-income households. However, recently, a disturbing trend of very young people getting involved in carjacking has arisen. On May 8 and May 9 of 2021, three carjacking perpetrators were apprehended, one of them 16 years old, one of them 15 years old, and one of them 13 years old. Obviously, it’s extremely tragic that people of these ages are getting involved in crime so early in their lives. However, it’s also rather terrifying to think that a 13-year-old is driving around the streets of Newark.
Of course, it’s not only young people who are getting in on this crime wave. According to law enforcement officials, many of these stolen cars are sold off to “chop shops” where they’re taken apart, their VIN numbers are removed, and then they’re sold for parts. Also, many of these stolen vehicles are sold intact and transported in shipping containers overseas. According to law enforcement officials, the biggest pipeline for stolen cars these days is to West Africa. Additionally, New Jersey’s coastal location and proximity to New York City make it the perfect location to run a carjacking ring.
What’s Being Done
In terms of leading the youth of Newark away from carjacking and crime in general, the local government is trying to get the youths more and more involved with local law enforcement to try to get the crime rate back down and to steer young people away from lives of crime. Of course, the relationship between the police and residents of predominantly Black communities like Newark is not very friendly at the moment, so this approach may have little effect.
In terms of apprehending the criminals already involved in carjacking, in the past two years, law enforcement has broken up three different international car theft syndicates. The approach there was that if you tighten the pipeline for stolen cars to leave the country, you’ll reduce the demand for stolen cars, and thus reduce carjacking street crime.
Automotive manufacturers are also doing their part to combat carjacking. Stealing a car has become far more difficult these days as carmakers have been installing electronic anti-theft devices in their newer models. Cars that now use electronically linked keys are nearly impossible to steal. And while criminals are currently focusing on making counterfeit keys and electronic hobs to steal cars with, these technologies have largely reduced the number of carjackings in New Jersey. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 63% of cars stolen in the United States in 2020 were more than 15 years old, which means that new cars are effectively deterring carjackers.
These older models can be stolen with nothing but a screwdriver. Criminals can break the window with a screwdriver and then use the old-fashioned method of hot-wiring the ignition. Newer models, on the other hand, have made it impossible for carjackers to start the car without an electronically linked key. In response, many carjackings nowadays involve what’s called a “soft steal,” which is basically when a criminal steals a running car or steals someone’s keys when they aren’t looking.
Common places for these “soft steals” are carwashes, when the car is getting its last wipe down, or when someone stops outside a gas station to get a cup of coffee inside the convenience store. A surprising number of thefts are the result of people simply leaving their keys in the car. So, if you plan on driving in New Jersey, and specifically in Newark, make sure you know where your keys are at all times.