By Karen Zautyk
Faced with a surge in car thefts and auto break-ins, the Belleville Police Department last week launched a special task force to deal with the crimes, and the results were immediate.
“After just one hour on the road, we made our first arrest,” Det. Lt. James Giuliano
told The Observer. Since Jan. 1, Giuliano said, there have been 68 cars reported stolen and 98 burglaries to autos in Belleville. Additionally, 25 stolen cars have been recovered on township streets — but these were vehicles that had been taken from other jurisdictions. In other words, thieves are using the town as a dumping ground.
To address the vehicle problem — as well as a recent increase in robberies — the detective task force was organized and it went into operation the night of May 16. Within minutes of hitting the streets, one of the units observed a suspicious black Acura in the area of Joralemon St. and Yale Terrace.
Giuliano said the driver stopped and let out a male passenger, who began looking into parked cars. The Acura circled the block, returned to pick up the man and thenheaded to the Food Basics mall on Main St., where it pulled up next to a parked SUV. The passenger got out and tried the other vehicle’s door handle, but it wouldn’t open. He reentered the Acura, and it left the parking lot, now followed by several task force units.
The officers attempted to stop the Acura on Washington Ave., but it took off, turning onto Van Houten Place and then heading south on Dewitt Ave., running several stop signs along the way, Giuliano said. It was finally pulled over on Dewitt.
While the detectives were questioning the occupants, Giuliano said, they were approached by a witness who said he has seen someone in the car throw something out the window on Dewitt. A search of the area turned up a Garman GPS unit, which, police reported, turned out to have been stolen from a car on Joralemon, near the place where the Acura had initially been spotted.
Inside the Acura, the detective said, were several pieces of electronic equipment, including an iPod touch, reported missing from a car in Nutley on May 15; a second GPS unit, thought to have been taken from another Nutley car, and a cell phone stolen from a Belleville car April 9. In addition, police reportedly found a flashlight and a set of keys, also stolen May 15 from an auto in Nutley.
The suspects, both Belleville residents, were taken into custody about 8:15 p.m., less than an hour after the task force began its inaugural tour of duty.
The Acura passenger, identifies as Jamil Gerena, 22, was charged with burglary and
theft from a motor vehicle, along with three counts of receiving stolen property.
The driver, 19-year-old Eric Rivera, faces the same charges as Gerena, along with eluding police and careless driving. He was subsequently questioned by Nutley police, who also charged him with burglary to an auto after he reportedly confessed to stealing the iPod. Nutley detectives are investigating if Rivera is responsible for any other thefts in that town, which also has been plagued with a rash of auto break-ins.
Bail for Gerena and Rivera was set at $50,000 each, and they were remanded to the Essex County Jail.