Did you lock your car tonight? Auto thefts, burglaries climbing in Southington

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SOUTHINGTON — Car thefts and break-ins are on the rise this year and police say they’re undertaking “a lot” of investigations with the help of video footage gathered from residents’ home security cameras.

Police are also distributing steering wheel lock devices to Hyundai owners and urging all residents to lock their cars and keep valuables out of sight.

More thefts, burglaries

While the police department recorded 163 car burglaries last year, there have already been 95 in town to date. April burglaries jumped from 13 in 2022 to 53 this year.

Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri said auto crimes, which have risen in recent years, do ebb and flow. A group of thieves will be active for a time and then either stop or get caught.

“You see spikes and then you see decreases,” he said. “April was a large driver.”

Car thefts too are up this year. In 2022, there were 62 vehicles reported stolen. To date there’s already 43 for the year.

“There’s groups of people who are going through and hitting all the cities and towns,” “We have our auto theft task force working on it,” Palmieri said.

Several years ago, the department formed an auto theft task force to address vehicle thefts and burglaries. The task force works with police in surrounding towns to catch criminals. Town residents have also formed neighborhood watches to share video evidence and other information on car thieves. Those videos, often shared on social media, do help police according to Palmieri.

“The videos that we get we use to further our investigations. There’s a lot of investigations in the works at this time and that’s basically all I can say,” he said.

License platereading cameras

Earlier this year, Cheshire officials approved the purchase of a dozen license plate reader cameras for strategic locations around town. Police Chief Neil Dryfe said the camera company is determining the best placement for the cameras and that they should be installed by this summer.

Cameras with license plate reading technology can identify vehicles that have been reported stolen.

“A lot of the people who are coming into town to commit these crimes are already driving cars that are stolen,” Dryfe said. “The chances of them passing a police vehicle that has a reader on it are pretty thin… If we can get fixed license plate readers around town, the main arteries, we can at least get an alert.”

Cheshire has three cruisers with license plate readers.

“The goal is to take the people driving the stolen car into custody safely and recover the car,” Dryfe said.

Cheshire’s car thefts and burglaries thus far match last year’s although they’re much more common than a decade ago.

Southington police are considering similar cameras and are looking to get grants to help pay for them.

James Verderame, a Southington Board of Police Commissioners member, said it’s difficult to catch thieves.

“You only have so many people. It’s hard. We have a pretty big area in the town… These guys are pretty smart that come into town,” he said. “There’s not much more you can do, except get those readers.”

The department could use 10 officers to just focus on car crimes but Verderame didn’t believe that type of expansion would be realistic.

Video footage from residents that capture a thief’s face or license plate are helpful in solving crimes, Verderame said.

“The detectives will run it,” he said. “If we can get that, we have a chance.”

Steering wheel locks for Hyundai owners

Southington police are giving away steering wheel locks to local Hyundai owners after the company provided the devices to the town. The car company has been making efforts to reduce thefts of cars made between 2011 and 2021, including software updates that make the cars harder to start without a key.

Hyundai donated 240 locks to Southington police who are giving them away to residents with proof of ownership of such a car on a first come-first serve basis.

Cheshire police contacted the company to also get steering wheel locks for local Hyundai owners, Dryfe said.

Thefts of Hyundai and Kia vehicles have been surging across the U.S. The automakers announced Friday they reached a settlement in a class-action lawsuit over the recent surge in thefts, according to a statement from attorneys appointed by the court to lead the case. 

In the automakers’ 2011-2022 models, the vehicles did not come equipped with an antitheft device that in most modern cars transmits a code from the smart key to the vehicle before it will start, according to the statement. Without the device and with design flaws, several online videos showed theives stealing the cars using a screwdriver and a USB cord in less than 90 seconds.  

Palmieri said departments are trying a host of ways to prevent car thefts, including encouraging residents to secure their valuables and vehicles.

“I don’t think there’s one magic solution that’s going to stop this. Collectively, we need to work together and get as many tools as we can to gather evidence,” he said. “That’s how we’re going to be successful in trying to curb what’s going on.”

While some residents have been frustrated at the need to take preventative measures, Palmieri said those measures are important to avoid becoming a victim of theft.

“The best thing our citizens can do is to lock their doors, don’t leave any valuables in the car, no purses, no laptops, nothing that can be seen from outside the car,” he said. “Unfortunately right now, the times we live in, we have to do the best we can to secure our stuff. The reality of the world we’re living in right now is that we have to take those steps.”

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ


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