Vehicle-related thefts have become a major suburban problem, and the West Hartford Police Department has turned to a proactive social media approach in order to keep residents from becoming victims.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford Police introduced the “#9pm Routine – Lock Your Cars” social media campaign in September 2018 in an effort to curb theft from cars and cars from being stolen, and Capt. Michael Perruccio, who heads the Support Services Division, is looking for ways to make the department’s efforts even more engaging.
Do a search of “#9pmRoutine” on Twitter or Facebook, and you’ll see posts from law enforcement agencies throughout the country – many imbued with witty memes or GIFs – reminding the public to lock their cars (and homes) and safeguard their valuables before going to bed each night.
“We had seen other departments doing it, and social media is another way to get the message out. It’s not just a West Hartford- or Connecticut-specific problem,” Perruccio said.
Off. Ross Friedman, who is assigned to the Patrol Division, had seen the creative use of memes by the Berlin and Glastonbury police departments sharing their #9pmRoutine messages.
Friedman, who is also a West Hartford resident, said he then caught people trying to break into his own car. “I thought we really needed to do something, and thought this was a great idea,” he said. “It’s free, and a lot of people follow us.”
The goal is to educate the public – and partner with them to deter crimes from happening. “We don’t want them to be victims,” said Friedman.
Although he did not have the most recent statistics, Perruccio said that the majority of cars that are being burglarized have been left unlocked. Most newer vehicles utilize fobs rather than physical keys, and the majority of cars stolen have the fobs left in them.
Perruccio started out creating the #9pmRoutine posts, and Records Division Supervisor Sandra Moutinho has now taken the lead in creating and collecting memes – many of which use staff members’ pets – that are shared through the department’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts.
Moutinho has reached out to the department’s 160 employees to send her creative ideas, and now Chief Vernon Riddick has challenged each division to come up with their own memes.
The messages need to be engaging, but at the same time should not be insulting to residents, Perruccio said.
Perruccio hosted a brainstorming session Tuesday with members of the media, seeking input to create a video. He said he is open to asking students at local high schools to submit ideas, and the public is also invited to share ideas about how to make the #9pmRoutine even more engaging. Suggestions can be emailed to Perruccio at [email protected].
Finding a way to cut down on vehicle-related crime, which is taking place in all parts of town, “has got to be a team effort,” Perruccio said.
A preliminary report released last week to the State Legislature’s Juvenile Justice Policy and Oversight Committee indicates that the “suburbs of central Connecticut are now the ‘hot spot’ for car thefts, while authorities in nearly every major city are seeing fewer vehicles stolen,” CTNewsJunkie reported.
But while the thefts may be taking place in the suburbs, the perpetrators are often juveniles from larger cities. The thefts are often crimes of opportunity, and at the same time the thieves have become emboldened by changes to the juvenile justice system made in 2012, which keeps them out of the adult courts – the subject of a 2017 op-ed by Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane.
“In a lot of cases these are just joy rides,” Perruccio said.
Vehicle-related theft is a complex problem with no easy answers, and sometimes devastating consequences. A 14-year-old West Hartford girl was driving a car stolen from West Hartford in February 2018, and crashed into a pillar at the entrance to Trinity College, leaving a juvenile passenger paralyzed.
A teen driving a car stolen from West Hartford in the summer of 2017 lost control of the vehicle, hitting a woman who was waiting for a bus. The victim later died from her severe injuries, the Hartford Courant reported.
Just prior to last week’s release of the report, a 17-year-old from Hartford died after a Mercedes he stole from Madison crashed in Durham. Madison police initially followed the vehicle, but did not give chase, the CTNewsJunkie article states.
Police are not supposed to engage in the pursuit of stolen cars just because the car is being stolen, Perruccio said.
On Feb. 21, a West Hartford man left a car running in a driveway on LaSalle Road near the Center for just a few moments, and two juveniles walking by tried to steal it, crashed into a parked car, and then found another vehicle left running with the keys in it just a block or so away and stole that car to flee from police. Those particular teens, already known to police, were located, issued juvenile summonses, and released to their guardians.
As incidents mount, police continue to ask residents to be vigilant about safeguarding their cars, and to call police if they see any suspicious activity.
“It’s frustrating for us as police,” said Sgt. Dan Moffo, who has been named the West Hartford Police Department’s assistant public information officer. “No one solution will work best.”
Perruccio added that he thinks there needs to be a holistic discussion about car burglaries, stolen cars, and the juvenile justice system – involving the police, prosecutors, families, coaches, clergy, etc. “We all agree it can be better,” he said. “What we do when we have repetitive crimes is we brainstorm.”
Moffo, along with Perruccio, are hoping to come up with a creative message that will reach residents and cut down on the opportunities thieves have to commit these crimes.
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