As car burglaries continue to increase, police urge precaution 

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Local police are urging residents to keep their cars locked and valuables indoors as car break-ins continue to spike this year.

"I would venture to say it's about 96 or 97 percent of these vehicles that are being burglarized are unlocked and it's the same with vehicles that are being stolen — there's keys left in it, there's fobs left in it,” said Southington Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri. “That's why we continually send the message: lock your vehicles, make sure there's no valuables in it. Take your keys and put it in your house ... you have to take measures to protect yourself.”

The town has seen 389 vehicle burglaries as of Dec. 15, up from an average of 233 over the previous four years. There have also been 85 cars stolen from town, a 73% increase over the previous four year average.

Earlier this month, Southington police began using Nextdoor software to communicate directly with residents in the area of car burglaries, reminding them to lock their cars or sending  out safety announcements. Anthony DeFelice, the department’s technology and social media administrator, said the program also allows investigators to request any surveillance video from residents near an incident. It has already been used in one investigation.

"It makes it so easy for them. Instead of having to email it or burn it to a CD and bring it down to the police station, they simply do it right from in the app and send it right to us and then we can attach it to the case number," he said.

Getting to the root of the problem, however, will likely take legislative changes to the judicial system, Palmieri said. He attributes the increase in thefts to more individuals committing these crimes and doing so more brazenly. He noted that in one night Newington saw over 100 cars broken into, many of which had windows smashed to gain access.

He believes a series of laws passed in recent years that have prioritized rehabilitation and diversion programs has led to a perception among juveniles that if they’re caught burglarizing vehicles that there won’t be any consequences.

“I don't think there's a law enforcement officer in the state or throughout the United States that doesn't believe in diversion programs, but there has to be accountability down the road ... if someone's caught and they steal a car and you put them in diversion, maybe they steal a second car you still look at diversion, but eventually if this person is continually showing you they're not going to obey the rules there has to be consequences. And I think the consequences have been portrayed that there is no consequences anymore,” Palmieri said.

According to Wallingford Police, there have been approximately 151 thefts or attempted thefts from motor vehicles in 2020, of which only three were locked and had windows broken to gain access. There have also been 48 vehicles stolen in town, many of which were left running unoccupied or had keys left inside while unlocked.

“Our midnight patrol shift has been and continues to be diligent in their efforts to thwart the thefts from motor vehicles. They have made arrests, however, the suspects are typically juveniles and little is done to deter them from continued criminal activity,” Lt. Cheryl Bradley said.

Cheshire Police Chief Neil Dryfe echoed Palmieri’s sentiments during a Dec. 15 meeting with representatives of the Cheshire Town Council and the town’s delegation to the state legislature. The town has seen at least 72 vehicles burglarized and 43 stolen this year. 

“I think the problem is the pendulum swung all the way in the wrong direction … you can’t go more than a week without reading something in one of the papers around the state about how police arrested a juvenile with a stolen car and it’s their now fourth or fifth pending stolen vehicle case,” he said, though he cautioned legislators against swinging the pendulum too far in a punitive direction.

The danger goes beyond property damage, he said, evoking the possibility of a fatal crash or an armed confrontation between a juvenile and a homeowner coming out to investigate a noise.

“That child needs to be protected, even if it's from themselves … it ends with a car full of kids from somewhere ramming into a tractor trailer,” he said.

State Rep. Liz Linehan, D-Cheshire, suggested using drug courts as a model for creating a program to reduce recidivism among youth engaging in car thefts. While there is an important place for punishment in the juvenile court system, she said relying on incarceration risks “creating toughened criminals.”

“Creating a similar system here in Connecticut, possibly using the Juvenile Review Boards already set up throughout Connecticut, will provide accountability, rehabilitation and an off-ramp for juveniles to be able to change their lives, while ultimately facing incarceration if they fail to do so,” she said.

A member of the Juvenile Justice Police Oversight Committee, Linehan said research from the Office of Legislative Research shows that the increase is a national issue, so she prefers to take a data-driven approach and look at what’s worked in other states.

“I just hear all the time that people think we’re not working on it and I want to tell you that we’ve been working on it, myself I’ve been working on it for two years now,” she said.

State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said that bills passed by Democrats that focused on rehabilitation over punishment have emboldened the youth committing the burglaries.

“I think we need to repeal some of the bills that have become law in recent years,” said Sampson, whose district includes Cheshire and Southington. “ … It’s not that I want to lock up teenagers that made a mistake, but these people are being trained to become career criminals.”

dleithyessian@record-journal.com203-317-2317Twitter: @leith_yessian


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