BERLIN — Vehicle theft is on the rise and police say drivers are making it easy for criminals.
The number of stolen cars in Berlin jumped by 186 percent in the last year — from 15 in 2019 to 43 during 2020, according to the Police Department. In all of these cases, keys were left inside an unlocked vehicle.
Deputy Police Chief Christopher Ciuci suggested that stolen vehicles are being used as a "mode of transportation to commit other crimes, for joyriding, or for their parts and accessories like tires and rims."
The number of auto break-ins has also spiked. As of Oct. 30, police recorded 196 cases. Last year during the same time period they recorded 39 — a staggering 402 percent increase. In most of these incidents, cars were also unlocked, allowing thieves to swoop in and get their hands on unsecured valuables.
“It’s just too easy for them,” said Ciuci. “It's a very lucrative business for burglars — they can sell scrap metal and personal valuables for cash. Unfortunately, many people don’t lock their cars. ”
Although Ciuci said the exact reason for increased auto crime is hard to pin down, he suggested that the coronavirus outbreak and high unemployment contributed to the problem.
“It may be due to the pandemic and lockdown. Many people are not working, they need money, and it's easy money,” said Ciuci.
He also suggested some criminals are aware of the statewide policy on police pursuit, which says officers can only chase a vehicle if a crime of violence is involved.
“Non-violent misdemeanor crimes are not a justification to engage in a pursuit,” said Ciuci. "Our officers cannot pursue the motor vehicle if the potential harm to the public is greater than if they let the vehicle get away. We have interrupted a number of these crimes in progress and unfortunately, the offenders flee in cars knowing we will not pursue them for property crimes.”
According to the official police report, most car thefts had been reported in July (8), and most car break-ins had been reported in April (42). Hotspots include the areas abutting the Berlin Turnpike, Mill Street, and Percival Avenue. Most break-ins occur at night.
As Ciuci said, car crime is a “state-wide problem.” With 167 auto thefts per 100,000 registered vehicles, Connecticut has a higher rate of auto crime than any surrounding state, according to the data released by the FBI. As of 2019, Massachusetts had 89 auto thefts per 100,000 registered vehicles, New York 65, Vermont 47, and New Hampshire 65.
To discuss the extent of the problem and help residents implement strategies to reduce car theft, the Berlin Police Department will be holding a virtual community forum on Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. The link to the forum will be posted on the Berlin, Connecticut Police Department Facebook page.
Earlier this month, Southington police also announced a significant rise in motor vehicle break-ins and thefts.
Police said that there has been a more than 200 percent increase in car burglaries in town compared to last year.
“Compared to 2019, Southington has seen a rise in both vehicle burglaries, increasing from 85 to 276 and vehicle thefts, which increased from 30 to 61 respectively,” Police Lt. Keith Egan said in a statement.