HOLMDEL — The township committee in this Monmouth County municipality has passed the first reading of an ordinance that could fine or imprison someone who tries to open, unlock, or even stand near a vehicle that is not theirs.

A final passage and adoption of the measure presented in Holmdel is scheduled for the committee's Dec. 13 meeting, at which time the public will be invited to weigh in amid reports of car theft rates increasing by around 20% a year in New Jersey since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Holmdel ordinance, introduced on Nov. 22, would make it illegal for anyone who does not own or have permission to access a certain vehicle "to enter or remain on any driveway, paved surface, or location within 20 feet" of that car when parked.

More specifically, the proposal would prohibit such persons from pulling a door handle or otherwise trying to gain entry, possessing any kind of device that could detect whether an electronic key is inside the car, or even peering into a window.

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Additionally, the ordinance seeks to prosecute anyone who is present within a vehicle upon which another person has committed any of the listed offenses.

The committee is proposing a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offense and $2,000 for each subsequent violation, with fines not to exceed $2,000 for any individual act.

A prison term of up to 90 days upon conviction could also be levied by a judge in place of or in addition to the fine.

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