Cars have long been a target for thieves and, even though security features have improved, an unlocked car still can be a temptation for criminals.
Connecticut’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program groups property crimes such as burglary, larceny and auto theft together, making it difficult to get exact numbers, but Cheshire Chief of Police Neil Dryfe says there has been a recent uptick in car-related crime.
It’s a concern that the Department is taking steps to address.
“There’s frustration on the part of residents. For a lot of people, your car is your biggest asset and if a car is stolen, that can certainly put a challenge into your life,” Dryfe said.
In his analysis, the numbers are up significantly over the past five to six years. To pick just two data points, in 2012 there were eight vehicles stolen during the course of the year. In 2021, there were 42. The numbers are down for this year, but for a victim, even one is too many.
“It’s frightening to know that someone has been in your car, even if nothing was stolen,” Dryfe acknowledged.
To help combat the issue, the Department has been working in conjunction with its neighbors at the Southington Police Department to form a task force committed to deterring and limiting the problem.
“(Working with Southington PD) is a force-multiplier for us,” Dryfe explained. “They’re seeing the same type of issue. In my opinion, it has paid dividends for us because we’re not limited to the four corners of Cheshire.”
The Cheshire Town Council recently authorized the Department to apply for a $35,000 state grant to focus on auto-related crime. “What the funding can do is help us get additional officers out to proactively patrol,” among other measures, Dryfe stated.
The Cheshire Chief points out that the category of automobile crime refers not only to stolen cars, but all types of theft from cars, including catalytic converters. What a dedicated, collaborative task force can accomplish is coordinated detective work, he says.
“When we recover vehicles, we’re processing for prints and DNA. Sometimes guys are finding a car that’s recovered in Cheshire that has a credit card in it that was stolen in Branford or something like that,” Dryfe explained. “If the card was used in a store, there’s surveillance footage and we can work off that.”
An analysis of the town’s incidents map shows that thefts are “inconsistent and sporadic,” making surveillance and prevention more difficult. Still, Dryfe notes, “the vast majority of these thefts don’t involve forced entry. People are going into driveways and trying doors and if they find one that’s unlocked, then they steal what they can.”
To reduce the risk of loss, Dryfe recommends always keeping the doors of vehicles locked and not storing valuables in cars.
“We used to talk about having a 9 o’clock routine, you make sure your garage door is closed and your car’s locked,” he added.
A stolen car, Dryfe worries, can become a tool for other illicit activities.
“We haven’t seen it so much in Cheshire, but in other cities these stolen cars are then used to commit other crimes,” commented Dryfe. “It’s bad enough you have a stolen car and a hassle with your insurance company, but then the car’s being used in a drive-by or a robbery.”
He referenced the recently-reported theft of a car in Wallingford that led to a drive-by purse-snatching in Meriden where a victim was dragged under the car.
In another troubling incident, a victim left their car unattended at a gas pump and the perpetrator jumped in and drove off, snapping off the hose that was still connected to the vehicle.
Other prevention tips Dryfe mentions are “not keeping your car running when you stop at the convenience store. I recommend locking doors even when you’re at the pump because we’ve seen instances where someone sees a purse or handbag on the passenger seat, reaches in, and they’re gone.”
“These are crimes of opportunity. What you can do is reduce that opportunity as much as possible by taking common sense measures and being aware of your surroundings,” he added.