Government Police/Fire

Police: Most Cars Stolen from West Hartford Have Keys Left Inside

Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford Police said that a vehicle was stolen from Brian Road early Wednesday morning, and like the majority of the 16 vehicles stolen in July, the keys were left inside.

By Ronni Newton

Vehicles are being stolen from throughout West Hartford, and Asst. Police Chief Robert McCue said that the common factor in most of the thefts is that the vehicles have been left unlocked, and with the keys, a key fob, or the valet key inside.

It’s become a crime of opportunity, a game. The “reward” for the thieves can be a car they can take for a joyride, or maybe a wallet, laptop, or other valuables left inside.

“If you like it, lock it,” McCue said.

“The kids that are doing it, most of them are between 15 and 18. They’re not breaking into houses, or the cars,” McCue said. In many cases it seems they just start at one end of the street and start trying car doors until they find one unlocked.

McCue said that police were called to Brian Road at 2 a.m. Wednesday. They had received a report of “suspicious vehicles driving slowly while occupants were out pulling on parked car doors in driveways.”

An investigation by police indicated that one vehicle on the street – a 2017 Infiniti – had been stolen, and two others had been entered. All had been left unlocked. The stolen vehicle had the keys left inside, police said.

McCue said that there were 16 vehicles stolen from West Hartford during the month of July, and 14 of them had been left unlocked with either a key, fob, or valet key left in the vehicle.

The thefts are not limited to one area of town, McCue said. Cars with keys in them were stolen in July from the following streets: Farmington Avenue, Glenwood Road, Greenacres Avenue, Brightwood Lane (2 vehicles stolen), Drury Lane, Walbridge Road, Bishop Road, Robin Road, Kirkwood Road, Belknap Road, Asylum Avenue, New Britain Avenue, and Loomis Drive.

For every four or five vehicles entered, one has a key in it, maybe the valet key left in the glove box. McCue said he’s surprised that so many people leave their keys in the car, even in their own driveways.

Just four or five years ago most car thefts were from commercial parking lots, and older-model Hondas were a prime target often stolen from shopping centers. Now most cars stolen in West Hartford are from residential areas, from residents’ driveways.

In the past – the recent past – when faced with a spate of car thefts, police would typically set up a task force, McCue said. They would try to track down the chop shop where the vehicle parts would end up.

When cars are being stolen from every neighborhood in town, a task force can’t be effective.

If you habitually leave your keys in your car it’s more a matter of “when” not “if” you’re car will be stolen, McCue said.

These days most of the cars stolen from West Hartford are recovered within three to four days, McCue said. “The question is, what kind of condition they’re in,” he said.

“These are younger drivers, they’re inexperienced, some don’t even have their driver’s license yet,” said McCue. The odds of a vehicle being involved in a crash are high. In other cases when the car is recovered the tires might be gone, the stereo ripped out.

In a recent tragic case, the teen driver of a car stolen from West Hartford fatally injured a Hartford woman who was standing at a bus stop in Hartford.

“Whose insurance pays?” McCue asked. Connecticut is legally a no-fault state, and he doesn’t know the answer, but there is the possibility of a car owner and the owner’s insurance company being brought into the mix with a liability claim when there’s a crash, even if the car has been stolen.

Juvenile law has changed over the past decade, McCue said, and 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer arrested as adults but instead just get a summons.

“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.

“It’s not even a ‘slap on the wrist,’ it’s more a ‘catch and release,'” said McCue.

It’s not just one group of roaming car thieves either. McCue said that last Friday, East Hartford Police stopped the driver of a car that had been stolen from West Hartford. Around the same time, another neighborhood in town was being hit.

Why is this happening so frequently?

“I would say from our experience that it’s mostly teens 18 and younger, more for joy-riding, maybe easy cash,” McCue said. “It’s thrilling, it’s fun in their minds, there’s a low risk of getting caught.”

While many homeowners have installed video and turn over footage to the police, the thefts occur when it’s dark and the video quality is often poor. The recent weather has been cooperative for the thieves to wander around, and with air conditioners running all night they often go unheard, said McCue.

The key to stopping car theft is prevention, McCue said.

“We need people to keep their cars locked,” McCue said. “Just press the button.”

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