There is certainly a heroin problem in NJ. There is also a gang problem. I have never had any issues picking up in the suburbs at night like Bergen County, but there is absolutely no way I would pick up in Paterson. Now if you live in Paterson and are comfortable with picking up there thats a different story. However, if you are not familiar with these high crime areas absolutely do not pick up there.
I think we all have a bit of common sense. Basically, if things look a little suspect dont pick up there and be especially wary at night. All it takes is a few guys hiding behind a bush to jump out with guns. Bullets will easily slice through doors and windows.
In NJ, carrying a weapon will get you into trouble and its against the law, however, a small club is ideal while in the car. Basically, if something happens you can swat at the attacker which gives you time to escape. Carrying a baton or billy club in the car will get you into trouble, but carrying a rolled up magazine or a 3 cell maglight with C cells may not get you into trouble. Here is how you would use it:
Notice how the bus driver swats at the attacker with one hand while driving the bus. The resulting blows do not disable the attacker, but distract the attacker long enough so the bus can be pulled to the side. So the purpose of a rolled up magazine is to distract and disorient the attacker to give you enough time to escape.
If you get a flashlight, get the 3 C cell style. You dont want the thicker D style or have more than 3 cells as it will become too big and unwieldly to perform what the bus driver is doing in a video.
and YES, of course, you wont win against the attacker who has a gun, but this will help against attackers who dont have guns.