Cars are being stolen and broken into almost twice as often as they were this time last year and police are powerless to stop it unless the state changes its tune.
That was the message Newington Police Chief Stephen Clark presented to elected officials recently, asking them to spread the word to protect residents.
Between Nov. 1, 2019, and Nov. 1, 2020, Newington police recorded a 92% increase in stolen vehicles and 68% increase in car break-ins in town.
“I can tell you, 35 years in law enforcement and I’ve never seen such a drastic increase in crime over a short period of time,” Chief Clark said.
Sections 14-283a-1 to 14-283a-4 of the Connecticut General Statutes dictate Connecticut’s Police Motor Vehicle Pursuit Policy. This policy states, word for word, that police “may only engage another vehicle in a pursuit if the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that the driver or occupant has committed or is attempting to commit a crime of violence, or there are exigent circumstances that warrant the need to apprehend the suspect in a timely manner because of the potential for harm to the public if the apprehension does not occur.”
It goes on to say that officers must be able to specifically articulate the urgent need to apprehend the driver due to this potential risk.
In other words, when a reportedly stolen car is located, officers are not permitted to chase it simply for the reason of property theft. The fact that perpetrators are well aware of the law is believed to be perpetuating these crimes.
“The offenders are primarily juveniles or young adults who travel into town with stolen cars for the purpose of stealing more cars,” Clark explained. “It was something we saw primarily in the overnight hours but it is now happening in the daylight hours too. These vehicles are then used to commit more crimes, burglaries, larcenies, armed robberies and shootings.”
Police in Wethersfield, Berlin, Rocky Hill and New Britain have reported similar problems since the state policy was adopted in 2000, amended in 2011 and updated again just last year.
“This is not unique to Newington,” Clark pointed out. “Every community is being faced with the same things. What’s concerning now is were starting to see an escalation…it’s just a matter of time in my opinion, before one of these incidents turns into a tragedy.”
Newington Mayor Beth DelBuono suggested joining forces with surrounding towns to ask the state to reconsider its policy. She encouraged residents to reach out to their legislators as well.
“We had a break-in at our house, one of our cars, several weeks ago and I think some of the other councilors have had similar experiences,” DelBuono said. “I want you to know Chief, that we understand you are doing everything you can as a department; maybe it’s time we make some noise at the state level and see if we can’t get some support.”
Connecticut State Police worked with departments in Hartford, Waterbury and Bridgeport to establish the Multi-City Auto Theft and Urban Violence Task Force back in February of this year. As of July the group reported having recovered 154 stolen cars and eight stolen firearms, also making 59 felony arrests.
Police said that suspects travel into the suburbs from all major CT cities to steal cars, employing them to commit more crimes or renting them to other criminals for use in shootings, drug trafficking and human trafficking.
Police urge people to lock their vehicles at all times, removing their keys and all valuables. This also applies to when “warming up” a car in the winter. If a suspect encounters a locked vehicle with no valuables in sight, they are more likely to move on than force entry.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.