Many Connecticut cities and towns are dealing with an increased number of vehicle break-ins and vehicle thefts, leaving many residents feeling violated and frustrated.
Law enforcement around the state has been investigating the cases of some very bold thieves, who ignore security measures in order to rip people off.
"Nerve-racking; it's frightening," said West Hartford resident Jennifer Shimanski, who has had her vehicles targeted more than once. She said husband's car was stolen a few months ago and later recovered in Hartford. Then in September, her home surveillance camera captured what appears to be two young men on bicycles in her driveway in the middle of the night. Shimanski admits, her vehicle was unlocked when the suspects approached.
The video showed one of the suspects opening the vehicle door and rummaging through the contents inside. The suspect reacted calmly when Shimanski's motion-sensor spotlight turned on, and even checked the handle of the other vehicle in the driveway before riding away.
"What if they had tried our doors or going through a window or something like that and I have my kids," said Shimanski, whose story is a familiar one in West Hartford, especially this year.
In all of 2015, 96 vehicles were stolen in town and 431 break-ins were reported, according to the West Hartford Police Department. In 2016, there were 111 auto thefts and 501 vehicle break ins, police said. But through the middle of September 2017, there had already been 118 stolen cars and 516 break-ins reported; with more than 300 break-ins just this summer.
"They're coming into the community, taking cars and then just basically taking them out for a thrill ride," said West Hartford Police Lt. Mike Perruccio. “When people, especially if they're even younger than 16, get into a car; they have no driving experience and now they're racing through the city streets," he said.
Many of the suspects under the age of 18 - juveniles who do not always work alone. "We've seen teams of people going out. We've seen pairs. We've seen one person," Lt. Perruccio said.
According to police in West Hartford, most of the recent break-ins had been on reported Sunday nights and most calls for stolen cars were on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.
"I have no doubt that my car has been checked way more times than it's been robbed," said Dawn Marzik, a West Hartford resident who recently installed cameras and motion-detecting lights on her property.
Other towns have reported increases in vehicle burglaries and theft as well. Police in Vernon investigated 23 vehicles stolen and 120 vehicle burglaries in 2016, but through just nine months of 2017, the department reported 29 stolen cars and 159 burglarized vehicles. In South Windsor, 117 auto burglaries have been reported so far this year, compared to just 85 last year and 35 in 2015.
Law enforcement across Connecticut has reiterated that most vehicles targeted had been left unlocked or had their keyless ignition fobs left inside. But detectives say thieves are getting into locked cars too, using tow truck driver tools or a car manufacturers' 'master key,' or simply smashing the window.
Another way thieves can get into a locked vehicle is with a key fob that has been stored too close by, possibly even inside of a nearby house. The vehicle owner may think it is all locked up, but police warn that the vehicle may still be ready to drive.
"That distance varies by manufacturer," said Hartford Police Deputy Chief Brian Foley. "If it's close enough to start it, someone could potentially steal your car," he said.
While the number of vehicles stolen in Hartford has actually dropped in recent years, there has been a drastic rise in the number of cars stolen from outside the Capitol City and then recovered within the city's limits. There were 182 cases reported in 2015 and 318 were reported in 2016, according to police. But through mid-September of this year, 406 vehicles reported stolen out-of-town turned up in Hartford.
In July, police said a half dozen teenagers were in an SUV stolen from West Hartford when it plowed into two people at a bus stop in Hartford. Rosella Shuler, a mother of four who lost both her legs when the vehicle jumped the curb, later died from her injuries.
"This is something that all of the state of Connecticut is battling right now," said Lt. Mike Perruccio.