Short Hills Carjacking/Murder Puts Spotlight on Essex Anti-Carjacking Task Force

By David Cruz

Dustin Friedland was laid to rest in Lakewood today. Law enforcement sources say investigators are making progress on the case and could have something to announce in a few days. With all the focus on the Short Hills carjacking and murder, it can be easy to forget that about 80 percent of Essex County carjackings take place in Newark where today Mayor Luis Quintana said he was thinking about events in Short Hills and the need to redouble efforts against carjackers.

“The prosecutor’s working on that, along with the police director’s office,” he said. “I have instructed Sam DeMaio, the police director, to do whatever we have to do, as a city. We cannot tolerate this any longer.”

There is a multi-agency anti-carjacking task force operating in Essex County. Led by the U.S. attorney’s office and the county prosecutor, the task force announced a billboard campaign this summer intended to warn off would-be carjackers with promises of stiff sentences but, across the county, and in Newark especially, the beat goes on: 345 carjackings last year.

“The carjackings today are the car thefts of yesterday because the new technology makes it more difficult to steal cars,” said North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos. “As a city we have to do a better job of locking these guys up and keeping them off the streets.”

Newarker Trevyn Allen was unimpressed with the efforts of local elected officials.

“Politicians, they claim they care, but they don’t really care,” he said. “If the city itself doesn’t take care of itself, it’s going to decline.”

Carjack numbers for 2013 aren’t yet public, but a source on the task force says it has been making more arrests, largely of juveniles, though, a successful prosecution rate of around 2 percent leaves some wondering what’s the point of a task force that’s going to clear just 2 percent of its cases.

“For them to put that kind of effort into trying to make this a priority and targeting carjakcers … I’m sure their success rate should be a little higher than that,” said Newarker Tony Powell.

With an arrest rate of just 2 percent, the task force would appear to be more task than force, the most lasting evidence of its work being anti-carjacking billboards, whose effectiveness can be described — at best — as inconclusive. As for the agencies involved in the task force today? No comment from any of them.