Home » Neighbors get Police assurance, advice in wake of luxury car theft

Neighbors get Police assurance, advice in wake of luxury car theft

by Amie Rukenstein

Township residents upset about a robbery met with Township police last week to discuss what they can do to protect themselves. Following the theft last month of a luxury automobile from the driveway of a Baker Way residence and a similar theft on Stout Road, residents of the Highpoint at Hopewell neighborhood seemed pleased to receive advice from police staff and elected officials at the meeting.

About 20 residents who assembled in the Municipal Building were met by Lt. Joseph Maccaquano, Lt. Louis “Gino” Vastola, and Detective Chris Collins as well as Mayor Courtney Peters Manning and Deputy Mayor Uma Purandare. Residents expressed that they were very appreciative of the opportunity to make their concerns known to the police.

Maccaquano led the meeting, explaining that the two robberies were not isolated events but were specialized. He said that targeting houses with very expensive, accessible vehicles has been happening throughout the State and the mode of robbery – breaking into the house with a tool that locates the signal of a key fob, then making away with the car – is the method they have seen used so frequently over the past few years that it has become a regular subject of the weekly call with the State Police Auto Theft Task Force, Homeland Security, and other municipalities, which Hopewell Township Police participate in.

“This is a large-scale organized, criminal investigation,” Maccaquano explained. “All the information we get goes straight to the State Auto Theft Task Force database, which helps the municipalities coordinate their information and cooperate. It’s a waiting game, the database is monitored daily, and we follow up on any leads. Eventually, they make a mistake, there is one arrest, and then the house of cards folds.”

Peters-Manning commented: “You know it is a very large [criminal] organization because if it were small, [the Hopewell Township Police Department] would have it solved already. I have full faith that they are working with the State Police and doing all the steps – even as Mayor I don’t know everything they do – but I do know that it is a subject that they are taking very seriously. So, even if you don’t see it, the investigation is happening.”

Maccaquano assured residents that they have increased patrols in neighborhoods they think may be targeted – especially those with high-end vehicles visible from the street.  And they have increased surveillance at major routes in and out of town. “We make a lot of vehicle stops to deter criminals from coming into town.”

As to what residents can do, the following suggestions were made by all three police officers:

First, if you see something, say something. If you see a strange car or person in the neighborhood, report it. If it is an emergency, call 911. If it is not an emergency, call the Township Police tip line, 609 737 3100 x 0. You can also email the tip line at [email protected].

Vastola emphasized: “Please don’t feel like it’s a bother if you see something that doesn’t look right or feel right. One of the best ways for us to track things happening in our town is for our officers to be right on the scene when it happens. If you call it in, we can check it out. It may not be anything, but if we see the same car more than once then we can start to see a pattern.”

Vastola also talked about the CAPTURE program, in which residents with outside cameras can sign up to make their cameras accessible to the police when needed. The program does not provide regular access to the police, it just creates a register for them of people who have cameras and are willing to share the footage. Then, if an incident occurs, they know who to call to look for recordings at the time the incident occurred. For the form to register your cameras (including Ring) click here. Vastola said it is like the tip line – “if we see several [home videos] with the same pair of sneakers or the same burglar tools, we can start to establish a pattern.”

Collins talked about lighting your yard to deter criminals. Keeping your yard well-lit can have a deterrent effect. If you don’t want your house to be a beacon, he said, get motion sensors, which might have a further deterrent effect to someone thinking about approaching the house.

The police officers also emphasized that it is useful for neighbors to talk to one another, comparing information, and letting the police know when something seems not right. In answer to a question, they agreed that keeping cars garaged can help, as can a security system. Maccaquana also stated that houses with dogs who bark are rarely targeted, in his experience.

There was some discussion of devices that can be purchased in which key fobs can be stored that stop their signal transmission. Since the scenario is that the thieves target house with very expensive cars, they know the key will have a fob that transmits a signal that can tracked in the house with a signal finder.  The question was whether using a device that stops that signal will help.

Maccaquanao gave his opinion: “If someone breaks into my house, I’m not confronting them. They aren’t coming for you or your family, they are coming for your property. Personally, for me and my family, I leave the key fob by the front door. ”

A member of the public added: “There is no point in confronting someone – you have to assume they come prepared – if not a gun, they may have a knife. Let them have what they want.”

Vastola agreed: “My dad always said when I was a kid, locks or bags keep honest people honest. If a criminal wants to do something, they’re going to do it. Like Lt Maccaquano says, leave the key fob by the door. They don’t care about you; they want your car.  And they are not guessing, they know exactly where the fob is. They want to take it and get out quickly.”

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