SUMMIT, NJ — With car thefts on the rise in Summit, Police Chief Steven Zagorski provided an update on the situation and how officers have been combatting the issue at Tuesday’s Summit Council meeting.
A total of 19 cars have been reported stolen in Summit so far this year, Zagorski said. This upward trend of car thefts in Summit first started in 2020 when 31 cars were stolen, according to Zagorski.
In 2021, a total of 24 cars were stolen, and this trend has continued into 2022.
Since becoming Acting Chief seven months ago, Zagorski said he has made combating car thefts a priority. Zagorski was officially sworn in as chief on Thursday.
Summit Police has increased its residential patrols, using both high visibility and covert patrols, Zagorski said. The Department has also increased surveillances of target areas and specific vehicle types and is working with other nearby law enforcement agencies to crack down on car thefts.
Zagorski added that Summit patrol officers have logged an additional 800+ hours in preventative high visibility patrol and surveillances in hot spots throughout the city.
Summit Police have arrested 12 individuals suspected of stealing cars to date, and Zagorski said it has been a mix of adults and minors committing these crimes. He said some have gang affiliations and extensive criminal records, while others are “relatively new to the game.”
On at least 15 occasions, Zagorski said Summit Police have encountered these criminals attempting to steal cars and chased them out of town, preventing them from completing the theft.
Back in December, New Jersey officials prevented law enforcement from vehicles during thefts, unless it was a last resort to prevent imminent death or serious injury to the officer or someone else. This was a response to the danger and crashes that can result from police pursuits.
But as of May, the state has once again allowed police pursuits in order to curb a spike in car thefts statewide.
Zagorski said he is in favor of vehicle pursuits, as it stops criminals from completing the thefts.
Summit detectives have recovered 17 of the 19 cars that were reported stolen, Zagorski said.
“We’re going to do everything we can, but it’s not going to put an end to this problem,” Zagorski said. “This problem is a little more widespread than it was in past years.”
The Chief said he believes the uptick in thefts comes down to two main factors. I have explained that Summit is an affluent town and residents are known to have nice cars, which attracts criminals. In addition, penalties for car thefts are “not that severe” and Zagorski said there is a market for luxury cars.
Zagorski reminds residents to lock their cars and remove the key fobs from inside. All 19 of the vehicles that were stolen this year were unlocked with the key fobs in the vehicles, Zagorski said.
In addition to the 19 thefts, Zagorski said there have been 62 reported attempts to steal cars, and none of these attempts were successful because the key fobs were not left inside the vehicles.
Councilman Greg Vartan said residents need to take part in helping prevent these thefts by locking cars and removing key fobs.
“We have to recognize that we are inviting criminals to come into this city because of our behavior, and I find that to be completely unacceptable,” Vartan said.
Vartan also asked the Chief if there has been any uptick in other crimes in the city. Zagorski said overall crime in Summit has always been below the state, national and county average.
“Summit has been, and I think will continue to be, one of the safest cities in the country, in New Jersey and in Union County,” Zagorski said. “But we’re not immune from occasional crime.”
Councilman Danny O’Sullivan asked if there is a particular time of day that these car thefts occur, and Zagorski said there is “no rhyme or reason” and they can happen at any time.
You can watch the full council meeting on Summit’s YouTube channel:
Have a news tip? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.