By David Cruz
It is one of the worst fears of many residents and visitors to cities like Newark. You’re stopped at a red light or just helping a fellow motorist when, seemingly out of nowhere, a carjacker is in your vehicle and gone, before you even know what happened.
“Clearly there’s an impact on the psyche of our residents and the people who come and work in the cities of Newark, East Orange, Irvington and what not. It’s not just a Newark problem, though. It’s a statewide problem; it’s a national problem,” said Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura.
Over the last three years, Newark has again seen a significant jump in carjackings — from 290 in 2010 to 345 last year — making it once again the carjack capital of New Jersey.
“We have more victims, basically, but it’s not as acute as you think it might be. You know, places like Camden and Trenton, and all the other cities, Paterson, Passaic. They have the same problems that we do,” Fontoura said.
But of the top five counties for carjackings in New Jersey, Essex has been number one for five consecutive years. A carjacking task force that includes local and state police, sheriff’s officers and even federal law enforcement has been making a dent in the problem over the past two years.
“With the quality of proof that we’re able to build, with the technology that we have now and with the partnerships we have now, if we have a good case, we’re going to seek the courts’ permission to waive you up to adult court and if you’re 16, 17, 15 even, you’re probably going to get waived and you know, we don’t want anybody surprised when they get 17 years in state prison at 17 years old,” Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn Murray said.
Law enforcement officials say they’re getting a handle on the problem but in a city that averages about a carjacking a day, most Newarkers we talked to on Broad Street say they don’t see that at all.
“The police have nothing like that under control. That’s impossible. They have nothing under control,” said resident Ben Jones.
When asked if the situation makes her angry or afraid, Aqueelah Butler said, “I’m both. I’m afraid, angry and terrified, all three at the same time.”
“These guys, they’re willing to do anything; they’ll shoot you or do whatever they gotta do to take your car,” said Louis Reed.
When Newark Police Director Sam DeMaio was confronted by residents’ claims and asked if the situation was out of control, he said, “Absolutely not. Absolutely not. It can be that one carjacking that happens in the wrong place at the wrong time or to the wrong person that creates a fear amongst everyone.”
The county says it’s still compiling 2013 numbers but this week alone, Newark’s had three carjackings, one ending with a cop shooting a 15-year-old suspect, and State Police issued a carjacking alert for the city last week after two cars were jacked in similar fashion on Route 78. That is a painful reality, no matter what your perception.