SOUTHINGTON — Two dozen signs are being placed at gas stations and convenience stores around town to remind motorists to turn off their cars, lock the doors and bring their keys to reduce the risk of cars being stolen while shoppers are inside.
“Leaving your car running and going in stores is asking for trouble,” said Police Lt. Keith Egan.
While car burglaries have captured much of the public’s attention, Egan said vehicles left running are sometimes stolen when drivers go inside a store for a short period.
The Police Department has purchased 24 signs from Sign Pro. Each is about the size of a typical traffic sign and reads: “Help us help you. Lock your car. Remove your valuables and keys. A reminder from the Southington Police Department."
Officers have visited gas stations and convenience stores in areas at high risk for car theft based on police statistics — mainly along West Street, Queen Street and the Meriden-Waterbury Turnpike — to work with store owners to have the signs placed.
“We’re trying to pick locations that are going to get the most bang for our buck,” Egan said.
The Auto Theft Task Force launched by Southington police in February has used a tech-savvy campaign to remind residents to lock their cars and bring their keys and valuables into their homes at night. The task force is also coordinating with neighborhood watch groups.
More communication and stronger relationships with residents has allowed police to respond faster and identify suspects more quickly, Egan said. Stolen vehicles have been recovered in as little as 45 minutes.
Communicating with residents has also allowed police to dispel some myths about car thefts, including that thieves are using devices to gain access to locked cars. Most burglaries occur when cars are left unlocked and thefts of vehicles largely occur when the keys are left inside the vehicle.
“There's a misconception that people believe the people committing the car thefts have some magic device to access your car,” Egan said. “ … There is no secret magic device that is being used out there, the reality is that people need to be more vigilant.”
The task force has also analyzed where thefts are occurring to determine where patrols will be most effective and coordinate with other area police departments.
“They have been able to identify some of the key players in this, as far as who are committing the thefts in the area and not even just the area but across the state … they’ve been able to combine resources, identify them, locate some of the juveniles that are committing the crimes," Egan said.
Town Council Chairwoman Victoria Triano said the police department keeps the council up to date with the statistics on vehicle thefts and burglaries. The numbers show the collaboration between police and the public has been effective.
"I feel we are making an impact … but it's not going to change overnight. It is going to take time and diligence," she said.