SOUTHINGTON, CT (WFSB) – All it takes is 20 to 30 seconds for a thief to get into a vehicle.
Channel 3 is exploring quality of life crimes in Connecticut and turned to Southington, where in just the last year, police assembled a new task force to clamp down on such crimes.
“The Hyundai is left unlocked,” explained Sgt. Justin Burke, Southington Police Department, as he showed Eyewitness News a surveillance video. “The owner and operator of that vehicle is now in the gas station and purchasing some items. This Jeep is a stolen motor vehicle as well, occupied by numerous suspects.”
Burke said it took those suspects only seconds to commit a crime.
“You can see the suspect just enter the passenger side and remove a purse,” he said.
The purse was snatched from the car while the victim was filling up at the gas station.
These are the types of crimes that are plaguing Connecticut and Southington knows it.
“The issue is still active and we’re still doing everything we can to combat it,” Burke said.
In another one, a victim was getting groceries loaded into her SUV. Another SUV pulled up right next to it. A thief popped out of the backseat, hopped into the driver’s seat and took off. The thief left the stunned victim no chance as she tried to give chase on foot. In all of the cases, Channel 3 learned it’s not one group, gender or age that’s being targeted.
Burke said it can happen to anyone.
“I think it’s more of targeting the gas stations, targeting parking lots of this town and seeing cars that are running that are unoccupied,” he said.
He recommended taking extra seconds to lock doors and keep your valuables hidden. In light of these crimes, the Southington Police Department said it has brought on two new crime fighting tools. First, the auto theft task force.
“One supervisor and four officers,” Burke said.
Burke said since the formation of the dedicated task force in February, victims have been getting their cars back faster than before.
“Some cases were four to seven days that these victims would be out of their vehicles,” he said. “Since then, our recovery time is much less. It’s to a day or two at most.”
The task force is already responsible for 60 arrests.
“There are a large number of juveniles that we run into during these cases,” Burke said. “I would say the majority are juveniles.”
He said the fact that many were juveniles has led to re-arrests, but that’s an issue that legislators and the judicial system will need to tackle.
While the task force works 24/7, residents can see the Southington hotspots, 24/7.
There’s a vehicle and burglary theft dashboard. In real-time, anyone can log on to see the stats.
“You can see where the crimes have occurred, you can search your address or your area and it will show you time frames, it will show you dates and some numbers,” said Deputy Chief William Palmieri, Southington Police Department.
Police use the map as a guide.
“We can look and say ‘this area of town is getting hit a little bit more’ and you can move your patrols in different ways,” Palmieri said.
Police hope that making this data transparent will also serve as a wakeup call for residents to be vigilant and lead to a safer Southington.
“When we add the analytics, the awareness and the collaboration, that’s how we really become effective,” Palmieri said.
Check out the dashboard here.
In many of the theft cases, the suspects pulled right next to their victim, so that’s something of which people should be aware. Also, in every case that Channel 3 saw, the door was unlocked.
Police recommended always locking the car, even if it’s in sight because people can’t always see what’s going on at the other side of the gas tank.
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