WESTFIELD, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Car thefts are up nationwide and are skyrocketing in suburban towns outside of Newark.

Data from the National Crime Information Center shows there have been more than 700 car thefts in Union County and 1,800 in Essex County so far this year, CBS2’s Meg Baker reported Wednesday.

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On Dudley Avenue in Westfield, you can read the flashing sign telling people to lock their cars, take their keys and hide their things. It sounds simple enough, but people there and in other neighboring towns aren’t doing it. As a result, police say car theft rings are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Surveillance footage from the Westfield Police Department shows suspects trying to steal an SUV this summer. Another brazen attempt shows them doing it during daytime hours.

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Police Chief Christopher Battiloro told Baker car thefts are at an all-time high there and in surrounding towns like Summit, Chatham, Millburn and Short Hills.

“For the most part ,I think our residents have developed a sense of complacency and they have become lackadaisical about their safety and their security,” Battiloro said.

Summit police just put out a public service announcement.

“Every car stolen in Summit this year, more than 25 of them, were all left unlocked with either the key fob or valet key left inside,” Officer Sean Thompson says on a new public service announcement.

Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle and Chief Battiloro held a Facebook Live chat on Wednesday on the topic.

“Is it part of a much larger crime ring?” Brindle asked.

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“Twenty-two of the 24 cars that have been recovered were recovered on streets of Newark after they had used in the commission of crimes, like robberies and carjackings. Most of the cars are recovered within 24-48 hours thereafter,” Battiloro answered.

Residents receive text message alerts about cars stolen with keys inside. Erin Eckard said it makes her anxious knowing suspects are canvassing the neighborhood for targets, but she isn’t sure the flashing signs help the situation.

“I’m not sure if that’s doing a good thing or a bad thing. To me, it feels like maybe it’s attracting some crime,” Eckard said.

But Chief Battiloro said the department is doing everything it can to get through to people to lock up.

“Community policing is a partnership and letting our residents know that they have a role, they play a part and they bear a responsibility,” Battiloro said.

“It’s a reminder for people to be vigilant about locking their stuff,” Mike Brown said.

“And my house, which I didn’t use to lock before,” Terri Brown added.

Westfield police also started the 9 p.m. routine, which is a reminder to residents to lock up before bed, because most of the thefts occur in the overnight hours between 2 and 5 a.m.

But as the cold weather rolls in we know some people like to start their cars and leave them running to warm up. Police are advising against this. It’s also illegal in New Jersey.

Police are reminding residents to hide or remove their garage door openers from cars that are parked outside, and to hide keys in the house, adding there have been instances of suspects opening sliding glass doors and grabbing keys off counters.

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