Crime and Courts

Teens crash stolen Jeep before man takes NJ officer's patrol car, leading to high-speed chase

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A police chief in New Jersey is calling for changes to the state's juvenile justice system after he said a 15-year-old driving a stolen Jeep intentionally rammed into his officers, then another man stole a police cruiser, leading to a high-speed chase.

The incident occurred early Monday morning in Secaucus. The teenager plowed into an officer's vehicle outside a gas station along Route 3.

"His first reaction was 'I'm 15 , I'm only 15.' Him saying that means he thinks he should be treated without accountability," said Secaucus Police Chief Dennis Miller. "He doesn't even have the legal authority to drive. He used that cruiser as a weapon to injure my police officers, then he fled."

The teen driver and a 16-year-old passenger were quickly taken into custody. But that's when the chief said a 23-year-old man in the backseat ran out and took off in an officer's patrol car, leading police on a high-speed chase through Secaucus, Jersey City, Kearny and Newark.

Police said the car thief ditched the cruiser in the Hillside neighborhood. Damages to the vehicle were estimated to be in the thousands.

"We have to hold criminals accountable for their crimes. They're not being held accountable for their actions," Miller said, venting frustration.

Police said one of the teens arrested had just been released from his electronic bracelet in June. Now the chief wants lawmakers to make reforms to the juvenile justice system to allow police to better go after repeat offenders no matter their age, and to allow prosecutors to go after them.

"We all have to get together to hold people accountable," he said. "All I'm saying is our lawmakers need to look at the law and say 'How can we do this better?' ... It's frustrating to go before my personnel and ask them to do this job — which is a thankless job — and it's frustrating to see that people, both juvenile and adults, are released almost immediately. They're not being imprisoned for committing these acts."

The chief said that so far this summer, his department has investigated several stolen cars, some involving juveniles. Police have called it an epidemic that needs to be addressed.

"We're training the youth today — by not holding them accountable, we're allowing recidivism," said Miller, noting that juvenile suspects end up committing more crimes as a result of often being released quickly. "The people are tired of being victimized."

The officer injured in the crash was hit in the leg, but is expected to recover. The 23-year-old who took off in the police cruiser is facing a number of charges.

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