West Hartford Police say there have been more than 300 car burglaries since June 1, the overwhelming majority of which involved unlocked vehicles.
By Ronni Newton
Many residents of Ballard Drive in West Hartford woke up Monday morning, Labor Day, to discover that their vehicles had been burglarized overnight, but this wasn’t an isolated incident targeting one neighborhood and it’s something that’s continuing at a high rate in West Hartford as well as the rest of the region.
“We’ve had upwards of 300 car burglaries since June 1,” West Hartford Police spokesperson Lt. Michael Perruccio said Tuesday.
This month alone, from Sept. 2 through the morning of Sept. 5 (none were logged on Sept. 1), there were 25 reported car burglaries, he said. “The overwhelming majority – almost all – were from cars left unlocked.”
Perruccio said that locking a car isn’t an absolute deterrent, but it certainly makes a big difference.
“In the middle of July we had a case where the car was locked and [the potential thief] couldn’t get in. A neighbor saw what was happening and called us,” Perruccio said. Police engaged in a foot chase with the suspect and although he wasn’t caught, the locked door did prevent that particular resident from being victimized.
“Please help us continue to push this out: If you like it, lock it,” he said. “The message doesn’t seem to be resonating.”
Along with car burglaries, there’s been a spike in vehicles being stolen. Many of those also are left unlocked, with keys or key fob – perhaps a valet key – left inside.
One of the most recent cases was a new luxury car stolen from a Fern Street driveway overnight on Sept. 3-4. According to the case report, Perruccio said, the vehicle had been left unlocked and a spare key had been left inside the vehicle. To steal the car, the thief backed into another vehicle in the driveway and across the lawn.
The vehicle was recovered in Hyland Park on New Britain Avenue in Hartford. It was unoccupied. No arrests have been made in that case, Perruccio said.
Of course sometimes just locking a vehicle is not enough. A truck reported stolen from a driveway on Sept. 2 had been locked, and there were no keys left inside. As of Tuesday, it had not been recovered.
In an interview in early August, Asst. Chief Robert McCue spoke about the increased incidence of car burglaries and thefts, and provided similar advice about being extra vigilant locking car doors and ensuring that keys are not left inside. Newer vehicles, many of which can be entered and started as long as a fob is nearby, can be easy targets.
“The majority of these are juvenile cases,” Perruccio said. As a policy, West Hartford Police don’t engage in chases with stolen cars, but they make plenty of arrests. Recently three suspects were charged on more than 100 counts, he said.
A major contributing problem police currently face is the juvenile justice system. Perruccio said a recent opinion piece by Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane published in the Hartford Courant highlights many of the frustrations law enforcement officials face as they try to keep their communities safe.
“It’s not just West Hartford. Departments throughout the region are experiencing the same problems,” Perruccio said.
“In juvenile court they’re not facing any severe penalties. [Vehicle theft] is viewed as a minor crime unless there’s a horrific end,” McCue said in a previous interview.
“It’s not even a ‘slap on the wrist,’ it’s more a ‘catch and release,’” said McCue.
“To make a difference, we really need the public to lock its cars,” Perruccio said. He also said people should not leave valuables in their cars.
Motion detector lights are also good deterrents, and cameras are helpful to police in catching suspects.
Car alarms are also useful – but won’t work unless the car is locked, Perruccio said.
Dogs help, too. If a dog starts growling in the middle of the night, someone needs to pay attention.
If you have a garage, use it and keep it locked. Thieves have a harder time getting into a locked garage, he said. If your garage is attached to the house, make sure the door to the home is also locked.
If people really want to, they can even hire a police officer to stand guard at their home, but that comes at a significant cost.
“We are taking steps to try to curb this. We’ve made arrests, we’ve gotten into foot chases,” Perruccio said.
There are eight cruisers on patrol on the overnight shift, Perruccio said. “But we need the public’s help. We can’t be everywhere.”
Looking at the statistics alone, if residents followed one or two of the suggestions the burglars would probably move on, Perruccio said.
“I think it’s prevalent because it’s so easy,” Perruccio said of the car burglaries, and even the car thefts. The kids who are doing this talk to each other. They know if there are good places to target in West Hartford. “Then they’ll hit 10-15-20 typically in a neighborhood,” said Perruccio.
The night of Sept. 1-2 there were multiple unlocked vehicles burglarized in the Farnham Road area – nine cars in one night, including two from the same property. In one case the thieves used a garage door opener found in one of the vehicles and also stole two bikes. One resident reported hearing a loud vehicle, but that was the closest thing to a witness that police got.
“It’s just a snapshot of one particular day,” Perruccio said.
On Wednesday morning a West Hartford resident posted a photo on Facebook of a vehicle parked in a driveway in Elmwood. It was on cement blocks because all four wheels had been stolen overnight while the neighborhood was asleep.
Police have previously said that best way to prevent tire theft is by using wheel locks – a lug nut that requires a key for removal.
“You want to make it as difficult as possible for people to steal your property,” he said.
Neighborhood watch teams are also effective, he said. “It’s a good thing West Hartford is nosy,” Perruccio said, adding that police appreciate that the community is on top of what’s going on, and that people are watching out for each other and reporting suspicious activity.
Anyone who sees or hears anything suspicious should not be afraid to contact police to report it. The police non-emergency number is 860-523-5203.
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