Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo
BRANFORD — Perpetrators in a recent car thefts didn’t follow the typical scenario of taking unlocked cars that had the keys left in them, according to police.
The keys were not in the 2012 Cadillac or 2011 Audi and the cars were not broken into, yet thieves allegedly recently took off with two cars from the same residence as the owners slept in the house, police said.
“On this particular occasion, they actually went into the home and went to the kitchen when the homeowners were sleeping inside and grabbed the keys off the counter and they stole a purse and drove off with the cars,” said Branford police Detective Lt. Dominick Eula.
Eula said this is the first case that he can recall of someone entering a home in Branford to obtain car keys.
The Cadillac and Audi were recovered. Police declined to talk about the exact location, but did note that stolen cars are being found in all the major cities, including New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury. Police also declined to say whether the home was locked at the time the keys were taken.
Branford has seen a marked increase in car thefts recently and while Police Chief Jon Mulhern said entering a home is not the usual method of gaining access to cars in town, it has happened in other towns in the region.
“I think we could agree to say that … going into the house, that is definitely a progression that is very concerning,” he said. “On the scale of how many cars are stolen and how many houses are entered, there’s no comparison.”
In Branford, car thefts have increased by 119 percent since last year, according to Mulhern.
He noted that for Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, 2019 there were 26 motor vehicle thefts. During the same period January to October for 2020, there were 57 motor vehicle thefts.
“They’re crimes of opportunity,” said Mulhern. “They’re reaping some benefits from it, so we’re seeing more and more groups engage in it.
“It’s a way of transportation,” he added. “It’s a way to facilitate other criminal activity. We are seeing these cars used in other crimes.”
Eula expressed concern about this recent case.
“Do I think they are getting bolder? Yeah,” he said. “Again, I think we’re creating a society where there’s no repercussions. If you know you’re never going to get in trouble.
“They get arrested multiple times for this type of thing and they get more emboldened and that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.
Police chiefs across the shoreline expressed concern about the laws associated with these crimes.
“It’s a pretty well-known fact with these groups that there’s really no consequence to your criminal actions,” said Clinton Police Chief Vincent DeMaio.
“For property crimes we’re not allowed to pursue by statewide pursuit policy, we keep arresting the same individuals again and again and again and again,” DeMaio added.
Madison Police Sgt. Joseph Race said in many cases, “they’re juveniles, so that creates issues.”
“The juvenile justice system is not holding these individuals accountable,” Race said.
“So, we have many we have tracked down that are repeat offenders and that’s what concerning, the officers are working very hard and these individuals are not being held accountable and they are just doing it over and over again,” he added. “The juvenile justice system needs reform.”
“A lot of them are recovered,” Mulhern said about the stolen cars. “They’re recovered damaged and they’re recovered after being used in other crimes.
“I don’t think there’s a proliferation of chop shops like there used to be,” he said. “Some very high-end cars get shipped overseas, but in these incidents it’s more the crime of opportunity and the opportunity to use the vehicle and at this point I would say across the region it’s a nightly occurrence.”
It was good work on the part of the officers on midnight patrol that led to the discovery that the Branfprd family has been the victim of a crime, Eula said.
“An officer saw three vehicles, driving in tandem at a high rate of speed and they disregarded either a stop sign or a stop light,” he said. “So, he tried to catch up to them, not lights and sirens, just to try and see what was going on and where they were headed.”
The officers then encountered one of the vehicles disabled, ran the plate and discovered it had allegedly been stolen from West Haven.
Inside the car was “paperwork that led the officers to the (Branford) residence where the other two cars were stolen,” Eula said.
When asked where in town the vehicles were allegedly stolen from, Eula hesitated to pinpoint the area.
“The only reason I didn’t want to give out that is because it’s happening everywhere,” he said. “This particular incident, breaking into a home, no, but the stolen motor vehicles, the kids going into cars, taking the keys and stealing the cars, that’s literally happening in every corner of our town.
“I don’t want people in Branford to be like, ‘Oh, that happened there, we don’t have to worry about it here,” he said.
Eula has this advice for residents.
“There’s always going to be criminals out there. We’re always going to do our best to try and stop them, but you just have to be aware,” he said.
“Secure your property the best you can,” he added. “Secure your vehicles the best you can.”