A New Jersey county that once led the nation in car thefts is launching a public awareness campaign to warn would-be carjackers that the crime isn't worth it.
The campaign includes billboards, bus placards and flyers. One features the face of a convicted carjacker serving 21 years in prison, and says "Seconds to carjack. Years of hard time."
Authorities say more than 400 carjackings are committed in Essex County each year, up from about 200 in 2009. The county led the nation in car thefts in the 1990s, but technology has made it more difficult for thieves to steal unattended cars, according to officials.
Essex launched the public awareness campaign Monday with the goal of deterring carjackers by convincing them that the crime comes with serious time.
"Carjacking is not the same as taking a stolen car for a joyride," said Acting Prosecutor Carolyn Murray. "When you pull out a gun or force someone out of their car unwillingly that is a serious crime and the penalties are severe if you are convicted. We want to send that message to young people who sometimes seem to view carjacking as nothing more than a theft."
The federal charges for carjacking or attempted carjacking carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, or 25 years if someone is seriously hurt.