New Jersey's acting attorney general Matt Platkin is once again allowing police officers to chase car thieves following a sharp rise in auto thefts.

The move reverses his predecessor’s limits on vehicle pursuits, part of broader reforms around how police use force.

“These changes will give law enforcement the tools that they need to meet the moment and to protect our communities while also being mindful of the inherent risks that come to officer safety and to the public when officers do engage in police pursuits,” Platkin, a Democrat, said during a Friday press conference in Marlboro.

He said auto thefts reached a record-high of 14,320 in 2021 across the state and are already up 37% this year. Thefts are up 53% from 2020.

“These incidents, understandably, have rattled families and we need to invest in the abilities of local police to more effectively combat these crimes,” Gov. Phil Murphy said at the announcement.

These incidents, understandably, have rattled families and we need to invest in the abilities of local police to more effectively combat these crimes
Gov. Phil Murphy

He added the state was also investing $10 million of federal American Rescue Plan funds to purchase automatic license plate reader technology. Police departments in the state will be able to apply for grant funding.

State officials said this technology is already in use across the state’s urban cities to quickly identify stolen cars and vehicles used in other crimes, like shootings. The automated high-speed cameras capture and store images of license plates in a database that can be accessed by law enforcement. The tech will be installed along major highways and mounted on police cars, officials said.

“Time is of the essence but that’s definitely true when a stolen vehicle can be clear out of a community and halfway across the state in a matter of moments,” Murphy said.

Allowing police car chases of auto thieves is the first rollback of the state’s use-of-force policy announced in 2020 following the George Floyd protests and promises by state leaders to reform policing. An Asbury Park Press investigation in 2019 found police car chases frequently resulted in the death or injury of bystanders or officers.

Under the use-of-force overhaul, police were only allowed to chase vehicles if they were involved in more serious or violent offenses such as vehicular homicide, kidnapping or sexual assault.

Platkin said he listened to the concerns of police leaders and decided to modify the policy. Officers will be allowed to engage in car pursuits in incidents of car theft or receiving a stolen vehicle through the end of the year. He said at that point, his office will evaluate the impact of the policy change.

State officials urged residents to stop leaving their key fobs inside their vehicles, which accounts for a majority of thefts.