Posted on December 30, 2013

An Epidemic of Carjackings Afflicts Newark

Marc Santora and Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, December 28, 2013

The grocery shop in Newark was crowded on Monday, as customers picked up last-minute supplies for Christmas.

Out front, a couple of regular customers pulled up in a Mercedes-Benz E350. The passenger got out, but the driver remained behind the wheel, talking on a cellphone. Nearby, four young men lingered, their faces covered with scarves and hoods, eyeing the car as they walked past it twice, the store owner recalled.

One of the men jumped into the car and told the driver to get out, the store owner said. The driver resisted and slammed the car into reverse, hitting a parked Jeep, which tossed the assailant from the car. A shot was fired. The men fled, leaving the car behind and its driver wounded.

The episode was among the latest in an epidemic of carjackings in and around Newark. That gnawing reality was put in sharp relief on Dec. 15, when a young lawyer was shot and killed as he struggled with assailants intent on stealing his 2012 Range Rover in the parking garage of the Mall at Short Hills, a retail center in Millburn, N.J., that attracts the affluent.

Three of the young men who were eventually arrested and charged in the crime were from Newark. {snip}

“It is like a diseased town,” said the Newark store owner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution from the assailants in the Mercedes case, who have not been caught. “There are a lot of predators.”

Carjackings are nothing new to Newark, a city that was among the nation’s worst for such crimes in the 1990s. Like other cities, Newark saw the number of carjackings fall in subsequent years. But they have returned to Newark with a vengeance.

In 2007, there were 208 reported carjackings in all of New Jersey. In 2012, there were 345 in Newark alone, 56 of which took place in December, according to the Newark police.

Already this year, there had been 475 carjackings in Essex County as of Friday, the vast majority of those in Newark, according to the Essex County prosecutor’s office. In contrast, New York City had seen 159 carjackings this year as of Friday, and there has been a general decline over the last five years, the Police Department said.

One law enforcement official in New Jersey, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, likened the trend in Newark to a “ride-share program” for criminals.

The rise in carjackings comes at a time when Newark is experiencing high rates of other violent crimes. With a population of less than 300,000 people, Newark has already seen at least 100 murders this year, and the feeling of lawlessness among some residents is palpable.

Law enforcement officials and criminologists also said that Newark’s proximity to major ports — one in Newark and another in nearby Elizabeth — has contributed to the increase, giving thieves the ability to move stolen cars quickly to overseas markets. Indeed, in some cases, carjackers are simply looking for a car they can use to commit another crime and then dump. Some are targets of opportunity; others are orchestrated by organized car-theft rings that send vehicles for resale in Africa, law enforcement officials said.


One reason carjackings are resurgent is that many new cars have sophisticated anti-theft measures, including computerized ignition systems that make driving a vehicle without the keys nearly impossible.


While weapons are used in most carjackings, very rarely do they lead to injury or death, officials said. Since 2009, three people had been killed during carjackings in Essex County, including Mr. Friedland, 30.