Two weeks ago, police said that they found stolen Global Positioning Systems and other equipment allegedly being sold out of the “On the Ave” clothing stores on Summit Avenue in Union City and in Bayonne.
Officers in Jersey City’s Special Investigations Unit recovered seven GPS units bagged under a counter at the Union City store. Police said they still had their mounts and power wires attached. The bust was a joint effort with Union City police.
Officers were able to return the GPS systems to their rightful owners by clicking “home” on the addresses stored in the devices, many of which revealed victims from as far as Lodi, Maplewood, Hasbrouck Heights, and Jersey City.
Because the store owners were allegedly fencing and receiving stolen property, they were charged with possession of stolen property and pirating, according to Union City’s Police Chief Charles Everett.
According to Sgt. Wally Wolfe with the Jersey City Police Special Investigations Unit, the GPS units were being sold for as little as $40 to $50 on the black market.
The month-long investigation in January came about when uniformed officers in the JCPD’s north district were told that burglars from the Jersey City Heights area were bringing stolen items to the Union City and Bayonne stores.
Fight fire with fire
The surging popularity and affordability of GPS systems is slowly increasing, as are thefts.
Weehawken actually ranked last year as one of the towns in New Jersey with the highest number of GPS thefts. Last year, there were more than 37, many of them at one of the three major parking lots along the waterfront.
Among municipalities in northern New Jersey, only Lyndhurst, with 43, has had more thefts of GPS systems than Weehawken toward the end of last year.
In Union City, the number of GPS system thefts has more than tripled, from three GPS thefts in October of 2007 to 10 this past January. To date, February has seen nine GPS thefts in that city.
In late January, North Bergen police arrested four teenagers who were allegedly involved with as many as 200 car break-ins targeting these GPS systems.
In West New York, the number of thefts was much higher.
During October of last year, there were only three thefts, but the number jumped to 10 in December and 20 in January – something West New York’s Police Director Oscar Fernandez attributes to the holiday season.
“[GPS systems] became more popular this year because it became a hot Christmas item causing the spike in December,” said Fernandez. “Surprisingly enough, a lot of people are leaving their vehicles open and [thieves] get in the car and they check for goods,” said Fernandez.
How to protect your GPS from theft
According to Wolfe, GPS owners can protect their property by removing the GPS system and its mount and storing it somewhere safe. For further protection, people are encouraged to take it with them when they leave the car.
Another measure that Wolfe suggests is wiping the suction cup marks off the windshield – a telltale sign that a GPS system, if not some other valuable device, is being stored in the car. An alternative to mounting the unit via suction cup is for commuters to place a friction mount on the dash – usually a small rubber mat that prevents items from scattering throughout the car – to mount their GPS system.
Nicolas Millan can be reached at NMillan@hudsonreporter.com.