Until a thief emptied the contents of their glove boxes, Dawn and her sister Lori had different philosophies about locking their cars.

Dawn believed she should lock her car everywhere. Lori always locked hers in public — on the street, in a grocery store, at the gym — but the car open when it was parked in the driveway.

The sisters, who spoke on condition that their full names not be used, live together on a relatively safe street off White Plains Road in Trumbull. Both of their cars were burglarized overnight in July, and they didn’t find out until they were leaving for work.

“(Lori) went out and said, ‘My glove compartment was open and everything was out of it.’ and I said, ‘You probably were in a rush and forgot to put everything back,’” Dawn said. “I opened my car and my glove compartment was empty and everything was on the seat. Then my neighbor came over and said the same.”

Luckily for the sisters, nothing was taken — no valuables had been left in the cars.

Scenes like that are becoming more common across Fairfield County, with most area towns reporting a double and even triple-digit increase in vehicle thefts and burglaries.

More Information

Town Crime Reported*

2016 (6 mo.)

2017 (6 mo.)

1991 Stolen (6 mo. average***)

Ansonia Burglaries

24

25

 

Stolen vehicles

14

24

51

Trumbull Burglaries

36

51

 

Stolen vehicles

3

10

92

Easton Burglaries

17

4

 

Stolen vehicles

0

4

(N/A)

Monroe Burglaries

17

27

 

Stolen vehicles

1

9

12

Shelton Burglaries

35

34

 

Stolen vehicles

8

17

45

Bridgeport Burglaries

302

364

 

Stolen vehicles

428

459

2942

Stratford Burglaries

(Not released**)

**

 

Stolen vehicles

**

**

240

Fairfield Burglaries

138

112

 

Stolen vehicles

30

31

166

Ridgefield Burglaries

2

8

(N/A)

Stolen vehicles

6

30

(N/A)

Westport Burglaries

23

51

 

Stolen Vehicles

6

14

(N/A)

*Reports of thefts and burglaries of non-commercial vehicles between Jan. 1 — June 22.
**PD did not respond to requests for statistics by press time.
***Six-month average calculated from calendar year statistics in FBI Uniform Crime Reporting program.

“It’s a high value, low-risk crime,” Westport Police spokesman Lt. David Farrell said.

Car thieves routinely use the vehicles for joyrides and additional thefts, according to interviews with six area police officials.

On Wednesday, a Westport resident called police to report some young people breaking into an unlocked car on Chapel Hill Road.

The suspects aborted the theft and drove away in another vehicle — a GMC Acadia stolen out of Waterbury. Norwalk Police caught up with the young suspects — all seven of them — after they crashed the SUV on the shoulder of Route 7.

Police say that most incidents are crimes of opportunity. With many cars left unlocked, thieves don’t even need to break open windows.

“Often times, with the new ‘push to start’ key fobs, people leave them in the vehicle,” Fairfield Police spokesman Lt. Robert Kalamaris said. “The end result is that the doors don’t get locked and the car ends up getting stolen once the perpetrator presses the brake pedal and sees the green light illuminate on the ‘start’ button.”

After the SUV stolen in Waterbury and seen in Westport was wrecked, the occupants were reportedly unheart, but they were hit with serious criminal charges. In a press release describing the incident, police urged residents to lock their cars and keep keys in the house.

Kalamaris’ department has gone beyond the press releases and repeated the same message in almost every medium at it’s disposal — portable electric road signs normally used to announce detours; phone calls to area residents; social media messages — but the opportunities still exist.

Many cars are stolen in the winter, when people leave them running in the driveway to warm it up. But plenty of area vehicle thefts happened this spring and summer. And data gathered from police departments by Hearst Connecticut Media show that motor vehicle thefts increased in most area towns and cities in the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period in previous year.

Those municipalities included Ansonia, Trumbull, Easton, Monroe, Shelton and Bridgeport. Fairfield thefts were about the same, and Stratford declined to provide statistics in time for publication.

Stolen from suburbs, found in cities

Most stolen cars are recovered, according to state data. But they’re often taken for a joyride or a crime spree first.

“A lot of our cars end up in Bridgeport,” said Lt. Patrick Lynch of the Ansonia Police Department.

Looking for a stolen car? Bridgeport police advise checking in the North End or around Newfield Park, between Interstate 95 and the docks along Seaview Avenues.

“They find the keys to one car and (then) take another car,” said Stratford Police spokesman Capt. Frank Eannotti. “A — because the car they came in they know is hot and B — because they know that the car they steal won’t be reported stolen until the owner wakes up in the morning.”

Stolen cars are not only dumped far from where they’re stolen, but used in crimes. In the last six months, police have linked stolen cars to a number of robberies and at least one drive-by shooting. Stolen cars provide criminals with cover because it can’t be traced back to them.

Why are car thefts still a thing?

Car thefts and tool-free burglaries were supposed to be eliminated by modern vehicle security. In the 1980s and 1990s it was totally different — cars were easy to steal and people could make real money selling them to “chop shops.”

“Gone are the days of slim-jimming and hot-wiring,” Farrell said.

Motor vehicle theft rates have fallen nationally from 659 per 100,000 in 1991 to around 220 over the past five years, according to FBI statistics. The theft rate was 148.9 in Connecticut in 2015.

But the recent uptick in cars stolen with key fobs and used for inter-town havoc has police departments considering an old approach in response.

“We used to have a regional task force,” which dealt with car thief rings that have been nearly eradicated, Bridgeport Police Capt. Roderick Porter said. “It’s something that we could look at again.”

But others point to a much simpler means of prevention.

“I think it could all be avoided if people just locked their cars and, you know, put their valuables inside their house,” said Eannotti, the Stratford police spokesman.

In Fairfield, car thefts and burglaries have been about the same as last year — around 30. Vehicle burglaries are also about the same. But the manner of theft there is consistent with that of other towns.

“Almost every car we have had stolen, the victim has left the keys inside the vehicle,” Kalamaris said. “We’ve learned that if people lock their cars and don’t give the perpetrators these opportunities, they move on.”

Perpetrators and victims

Teenagers, particularly males 15-19, are the most likely group to steal cars, according to state crime reporting data from 2015.

Thieves suffer foreseeable consequences, such as arrest or car accidents. Last summer, two Bridgeport boys, aged between 12 and 14, were found upside down after crashing a white sedan after leading police on a chase.

But sometimes the consequences are even worse for car thieves and their associates.

Jayson Negron, 15, and Julian Fyffe, 21, were both shot by police after they were stopped in an allegedly stolen car in May. Negron died from his wounds. That case remains under investigation.

In June, police said, a car owner in Redding shot a 15-year-old Waterbury girl after she and a group of young people allegedly tried to steal his car.

“The girl who received the gunshot wound was part of a group of individuals that we believe were involved in criminal activity,” Ridgefield Police Capt. Jeff Kreitz told the Ridgefield Press.

She survived her wounds. The case is still being investigated, Kreitz said.