CHESHIRE — Two months ago, the town’s Public Safety Commission purchased 52 signs to distribute around town, each one encouraging residents to remember to lock their car doors and not leave anything valuable inside.
The move comes as the community continues to see a dramatic rise in car thefts, one that Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe warned is happening all across the state.
“We are, like many towns, a victim to what has been going on at a much larger scale in the state,” he told The Herald recently. “In the last three quarters of this calendar year, we have had (37) car thefts.”
For all of 2019, the Department reported 12 car thefts.
Dryfe made it clear that, in the majority of cases where the vehicles had been taken, there were zero signs of forced entry, meaning that the perpetrators were likely stealing cars that were unlocked, possibly with the keys still inside.
“This has been very difficult for us to deal with from an enforcement standpoint,” he added. “On several occasions, officers have noticed suspicious activity and tried to perform a traffic stop, only for the suspects to drive away immediately. We are not going to engage in any sort of car chase with them, (as) that could potentially put more residents at risk and it’s just not necessary in these situations.”
The difficulty in enforcement is only exacerbated by the fact that there are no specific patterns the suspects are following. Dryfe notes that, while vehicles are being taken from Cheshire, they are being recovered all over the state.
“There is no one specific area or place that they are going to dump these cars,” he said. “Sometimes they will go joy-riding and just leave the vehicle anywhere. Other times, we do recover the vehicles, but they are all over Fairfield County. It’s also hard for us to determine who exactly is doing these crimes since they happen so fast. Sometimes residents have footage from Ring [doorbell] cameras, which can help, but not everyone has those.”
While the car theft issue seems to be ongoing, other crimes such as traffic stops and arrests, are happening at a much lower rate.
“We are trying to limit the amount of exposure the town has to our officers,” Dryfe said. “A traffic stop is close contact — not a great socially-distanced interaction. We want to keep both the officer and citizen safe, no one in the department wants to be the source of infection.”
“We’ve been trying to draw the line,” he continued. “There are some violations out there, but we want to make sure that everyone is staying safe.”
Recently, the policehad an incident of COVID-19 within the facility, which resulted in the shutdown of fingerprinting services for one day, as well as the quarantine of four officers. Besides that, services have not been interrupted by the virus.
Dryfe also has an important message for residents for the upcoming holiday season.
“When it comes to wrapped gifts, please don’t leave them in your car. Your locked and unlocked car is not the best place to store any type of valuables,” he said. “Even if your car is locked, if they see gifts in there they are going to take something. It’s not going to deter anyone from not stealing. I would hate to have someone lose their holiday gifts to something like this.”